The Hebridean sheep breed is a sheep (Ovis aries Linnaeus, 1758) originally from Scotland, with a main aptitude for meat production.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
O. aries species,
Geographic and Area Distribution –
The Hebridean, a breed of sheep now classified as rare, originally from the islands off the west coast of Scotland.
The Hebridean is a small, black breed similar to other members of the northern European short-tailed sheep group, having a short, triangular tail. At one time this sheep breed was also known by the name of Saint Kilda, although, unlike other breeds such as the Soay and the Boreray, it is probably not native to the Saint Kilda archipelago.
Origins and History –
Hebridean sheep are descended from the same British stock dating back to the Iron Age. These breeds were smaller than modern ones, had similar short tails, and slightly hairier fleeces to deflect water. The Hebridean breed was once a livelihood pillar of farmers across Scotland until the agricultural revolutions in the 18th century drove them to the Hebrides, a large group of islands off Scotland’s west coast, where they managed to survive for the most part. more unchanged.
Over the centuries it has been a breed that has received some support as the aristocracy liked the black coloring and selected them.
It is interesting to note that the Celtic peoples liked the black colouration and not only for the colour: the feet with black horns are harder and grow more slowly, characteristics which lend themselves to being left to their own devices in very difficult terrain.
Over time, the breeding of these breeds survived until the end of the 19th century only in the Scottish Highlands and in many islands of northern Scotland; a classic example is that of the Scottish Dunface breed, which then split into many local varieties, most of which are now extinct, but of which, for example, the Shetland and the North Ronaldsay still survive. Dunface-type ewes kept in the Hebrides were rather small, with a white face and legs and with a short, soft fleece, also usually white but often also black, brown, reddish or grey.
Individuals of both sexes had at least one pair of horns but in many cases they could have two or even three pairs of horns.
Subsequently the Dunface breed was gradually replaced by long-tailed breeds such as the Scottish Blackface and the Cheviot and, in fact, the Dunface disappeared first from the whole mainland and finally from the Hebrides as well.
In 1973 the British Rare Breeds Survival Trust identified the few remaining, virtually wild, herds in the Hebridean parks as critically endangered and listed the breed. She is recovering today but still needs to be monitored. However since then, the breed has been revitalized and is no longer considered rare, in fact, it has begun to be bred in different parts of the world, including the native Hebrides.
The present-day Hebridean breed of sheep has a black, rather coarse fleece which tends to brown when seen in the sun and often turns gray as it ages. The fleece, which is absent on the muzzle and legs of the animal, can fall spontaneously from the animal in spring and can weigh up to 2.5 kg.
A typical feature of both male individuals, rams, and females of this breed is that they often have two pairs of horns, even in most cases not even one and, in some cases, even none.
Size is small with males weighing around 50-60kg and females around 40kg.
It should be emphasized that the gene which makes the fleece black, and which is present in the genetic heritage of Hebridean breed sheep, is instead absent from the heritage of sheep breeds endemic to Europe, while it can be found in some Middle Eastern breeds. It is therefore thought that this gene was acquired from the Hebridean (as well as from the Black Welsh Mountain breed) through crosses with individuals of the Jacob breed, which is believed to be derived from a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean breed and whose specimens are often also bred as animals from ornament.
Productive attitude –
The Hebridean ewe have been bred in wilderness areas for hardiness in all weather conditions, ease of calving, milk yield and good maternal instincts.
Because it has not undergone artificial selection, it remains a small, cost-effective breeding ewe with an astonishing ability to produce quality crossbred lambs. It shows a greater tendency to browse than other sheep breeds which has made them useful in ecological projects where control of shrubs and weeds was needed. Without these sheep, many seabird species would be in an even greater risk of extinction.
In general, therefore, the Hebridean sheep are very resistant, capable of adapting to rather rough pastures and for this reason they are often used as animals for conservation grazing aimed at maintaining the natural habitats of the moors.
Furthermore, as mentioned, they are good mothers and give birth easily, often have twins, and are excellent milkmaids.
All lambs are born truly black and Hebridean ewes often turn gray as they age, with an increasingly coarser fleece. Some are double-coated and, like their Shetland relatives, can have a very soft downy undercoat, while others are very dense. The piles range from approximately 1.4 to 3.6 kg, with an extremely variable staple length.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Daniele Bigi, Alessio Zanon , 2010. Atlas of native breeds. Cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs reared in Italy, Edagricole-New Business Media, Bologna.