Rare Breeds: Ryeland Sheep

ryeland-sheep
Photo by Tabitha Bilaniwskyj-Zarins with Rodney and Louise Fish, Candelo NSW

Ryeland sheep are a very old, white-faced, polled (no horns), small to medium sized breed, which produces a fine, down type of wool. The breed was developed by monks at Leominster in the rye growing district of Herefordshire, England, in the 15th century.

Characteristics

Ryeland sheep are suited for small-holding farmers who want all-purpose sheep – capable of providing both fine wool for hand-spinning and high quality meat for the table – which are not too big for safe handling, and are docile, fertile and thrifty.

The breed is favoured for high quality wool: ewes produce over three kilograms, which is of 26–32 microns in diameter and 75–100 mm in staple length. The wool is dense with an absence of black fibres. The fleece spins nicely – lofts well and gives bounce to yarn – and the wool has good wearing quality. The fleece can also be used as padding for felt or natural wadding in a quilt.

Advantages of Ryeland Sheep

This hardy breed doesn’t require a lot of land to thrive. The sheep can withstand severe grazing conditions and tolerate higher stocking rates: they are well suited to lifestyle blocks. However, they do need some quality feed, and should not be forgotten in a back paddock. Ryeland ewes are good breeders – hardy with an abundant milk supply – and have great maternal instincts.

Another outstanding virtue of Ryeland sheep is that, when used as a crossing sire, they produce an excellent type of lamb, with a long carcass and ideal muscling, particularly over the loins. The lambs are heavy and grade well, and in most cases are ready for the butcher at weaning. Ryelands will improve the evenness of a line of lambs from ewes of differing type. The texture and flavour of Ryeland meat is hard to beat: if you’re looking for the succulent roasts that you remember from childhood days, try Ryelands.

The breed is not common here, but deserves to be kept in Australia.

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