Trip to England, Part 4: The Big Sheep Event

OK, if you are not a big sheep fan, you should skip this post. If, however, you are interested in seeing a lot of unusual (and some familiar) sheep, read on!

After finishing my rug (see last couple posts), I took a train…well, I took several trains….to reach the market town of Melton Mowbray in the Leicestershire area. This town hosts a cattle market on a regular basis but also has other things going on at the marketplace – like sheep shows and auctions.

This is a show for rare sheep breeds -appropriately titled “Traditional Native Breeds National Show and Sale”. I heard about it from Lisa, the Jacob Society representative for the eastern ¬†region of England. She was very helpful getting me connected with Trish, the Jacob breeder I met at the beginning of my trip. Lisa was at this show with her sheep and I learned a lot from her about how this kind of show and auction works.

The first day was a show, with sheep competing for awards. The second day is an auction where lambs and shearlings (we call them yearlings here) are bid on and taken home to new farms. There were so many breeds here that I had read about but had never seen as they are, for the most part, not in the States. Let’s start with some you may have seen before in this blog:

Here are some winners in the Jacobs:

Another breed that was familiar was the Shetlands.

And, these guys looked kind of familiar….

"I bet there's better food over there (and, yes, I'm a Wensleydale)".

Now, on to the breeds I knew less about. The first one that caught my eye was the Hebridean. They were supposedly brought to the British Isles by the Vikings. I just loved their looks. Like Jacobs, they can have two or four horns.

Isn’t he amazing?!

I was impressed enough with this breed to get a sheepskin rug and have plans to order some fiber to work with.

The sheep show was fun to watch – the Jacob and Hebridean representatives made it to the top five. The exhibitors look pretty formal as they show in white coats!

The breed that won the Interbreed Championship was the Portland Sheep.

You have to admire their attitude (OK, I might be prejudiced as they invited me to join in their celebration – including sharing their wine with me!).

The Portland is a fine wool breed established in the 13th century – they have very old sheep in England!

The Kerry Hills are a very unusual looking sheep:

They are a relatively “new” breed (1809) and originated in the village of Kerry. They are mostly in Central England and the Welsh Borders and their wool is used in upholstery.

There were plenty of horned sheep besides the Jacobs. The Manx Loaghtan was rather attractive:

"Not pasture but better than nothing!"

These sheep are primitives from the Isle of Man and are thought to be over 1000 years old. My source says manx means “mouse brown” – a good description. Apparently it is a good wool for spinning and weaving.

Another horned breed is the Norfolk Horn – another sheep from the 13th century. Some were crossbred in the 18th century to produce a breed we are familiar with – the Suffolk.




The sheep that wins “hardest to pronounce name” (even the locals had trouble with it!) is the Llanwenog.

Again, a “newer” breed – late 19th century. My source says it is an easily managed breed and can live on upland pastures and lowlands. The sheep in Britain are the most varied in the world and a lot of that is due to the geography. (Two good source books on British Sheep ¬†are: “British Sheep and Wool” put out by the British Wool Marketing Board; and “Sheep Keeping”by Richard Spencer).

There were a lot more breeds there but this post is long enough! The second day was the auction. Because of the large number of ewes, they were auctioned “off the board” which means the auctioneer and his assistant actually stand on boards above each pen as they auction them off.

The rams, however, get sold in the ring – some getting pretty active!

Here’s one last sheep – a look ahead to the next, and last, post of the trip to England. This is a Galway and you will see a lot more of them in the next post. This one was at the show.

After all the excitement of the show and sale, I took time out to visit a local cafe in Melton Mowbray and check out my new book on Portland Sheep!

Published in: on October 16, 2011 at 2:27 am  Comments (3)  
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