Rare sheep flock finds new home at All Saints South Elmham
- Credit: James Bass
A rare breed of sheep has been introduced to East Anglia for the first time, following the establishment of only the second flock outside the animals’ West Country homeland.
The Devon Closewool, recorded as a “minority” breed on the 2015 rare breeds watchlist, has fewer than 40 flocks in its traditional heartland of Devon and Somerset, one in Surrey – and now one at Meens Farm, at All Saints South Elmham, near Halesworth.
After their 300-mile journey east, the four shearling ewes are due for a pregnancy scan next week and are expected to lamb in mid-March.
They were brought to her family’s farm by Gail Sprake, chairman of trustees for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), who intends to buy a ram in the summer to extend the flock during the next breeding season.
“We intend to show them as we are only the second flock outside their homeland, so there will hardly be a person coming to the show who will have seen these animals before,” said Mrs Sprake.
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“But the primary reason for buying them was to support a rare breed. The biggest threat to their survival is the fact that they have so few examples of the breed outside their homeland and, if you think about it, if foot and mouth disease was to hit the West Country, they could be lost completely. From that point of view if we can bring a flock out of the area it will give long-term security to the future of the breed.”
The Devon Closewool was the only sheep out of 24 breeds to show a significant decline on the RBST’s 2015 watchlist, which was published this month. It is a strong-bodied white-faced sheep, with no horns, a thick fleece and well-fleshed shoulder, loin and rump.
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Mrs Sprake said her interest in the breed came after seeing the animals at the National Sheep Association’s summer show at Malvern.
“We have had Southdowns for 30 years, which were taken off the list in 2007 and are regaining their place in the national flock,” she said. “So we felt that we would look to support something else, something we had not seen in East Anglia before.
“Looking at the Devon Closewools, there is really no reason why they should rare, other than the fact that they are so geographically concentrated. They have no horns and meaty carcasses, so they should be a very useful sheep.”