PHOTO: themadbirdlady/Flickr
Heidi Strawn
February 4, 2011

Use: In Europe, the long, coarse wool of the Scottish Blackface is made into fine carpets, Irish and Scottish Tweeds, and used to stuff mattresses. Felters, rug hookers, and spinners enjoy working with the sheep’s unique double-coated fleeces, which have a staple length of 15 to 30 cm. This medium-sized breed also produces a lean, fine-grained, and flavorful meat. Plus, their lovely horns can be used in the creation of shepherd’s crooks and walking sticks.

History: An old and primitive breed, the Scottish Blackface may have originated in the border areas between Scotland and England. As far back as the 12th Century, monastery records show that monks raised horned, “dun-faced” sheep to provide wool for their garments; these were most likely the predecessors of today’s Scottish Blackface. In 1503, James the IV of Scotland established a flock of some 5,000 Scotties in Ettrick Forest, and during the 17th and 18th Centuries the breed went by the name of Linton sheep. By the 19th century, Scottish Blackface sheep had radiated into the highlands, Ireland, and over to the United States. Today, this hardy breed makes up a good chunk of Britain’s sheep population, although it remains a minor breed in the United States.

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Conformation: A Scottish Blackface flock grazing an emerald Scottish hillside is a sight to marvel at.   These noble sheep possess striking black or mottled black and white faces and legs and long white fleeces that should be free of black fiber.  Both ewes and rams sport impressive horns; strong and energetic, these animals should be handled with care.  Body types vary, depending on what part of Scotland the animals came from.  Rams weigh around 150 to 200 pounds; ewes, 100 to 150 pounds.

Special Considerations/Notes: Scottish Blackface have a near legendary ability to withstand severe weather conditions on marginal grazing;  these thrifty sheep thrive in hilly and mountainous terrain, and will eat more brush and low quality grasses than their large, modern counterparts.  They tend to be highly disease resistant, and the ewes lamb easily and produce plenty of milk for their lambs.  These protective mothers will readily wield their horns against dogs and other perceived threats to their young.  Raisers describe the breed as smarter than your average sheep – if you have poor fences, they’ll find the weak spots and escape.

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