Rare breeds have a small environmental footprint. They do not respond to intensive feeding
so no benefit is gained from doing so. They are able to grow well on poor quality grazing that has had no fertiliser or pesticide
input, giving a more diverse sward that supports a diverse ecosystem, not just sheep. Rare breeds can
be produced on conservation grade land and are compatible with land management systems designed to promote flower meadows
and an insect rich environment.
The rare breeds
are also very robust in terms of health so need very little use of veterinary medicines to keep them healthy. While Chiltern
Lamb does not run an organic system in any official sense, the use of chemicals for flock management is very low.
So what determines whether a breed is ‘rare’? Inevitably, the whole rare
breed thing is quite complicated and the Rare Breed Survival Trust website is the best place to start reading about this in more detail. The Trust produces a watch list annually which tracks
the success or otherwise of conservation activities for sheep, cattle, pigs, goats and equine (horses and ponies).
The breeds are placed into appropriate categories based on species and the total number
of registered breeding females in the United Kingdom. However there are other factors that affect a breed's position on
the watchlist such as geographical concentration.
are 5 categories on the watchlist and the number of animals designated in each depends on the animal type.
For sheep, the threshold figures for each category are:
Number of registered
breeding ewes in the UK
Less than 300
2 Endangered 300-500
3 Vulnerable 500-900
4 At Risk 900-1500
5 Minority 1500
6 Other British
breeds More than 3000
are breeds native to the UK that are not classed as rare. These breeds are listed in Category 6 other native breeds. So far
16 breeds now in Category 6 were previously in categories 1-5 and have successfully progressed into Category 6. This clearly
illustrates the successful work being carried out by charities, breed societies and those individuals who produce flocks
or herds commercially.
It might seem strange to eat something that is classified as rare. However, they have only become
rare by falling out of general farming production. It is not possible to keep a healthy population simply as pets. These animals
were bred for specific purposes and they should be used for such to have any chance of bringing them back into mainstream
agriculture. So, by buying from Chiltern Lamb and similar producers, you are actually helping to preserve the heritage of
Of our breeds, the Devon and Cornwall Longwool are Vulnerable (Cat 3),
the Balwen, Portland and Soay are At Risk (Cat 4). The Jacob and Black Welsh have recently progressed from Category 5 to Category
6 as a result of successful conservation activity, while Herdwick and Badger Face fall within Category 6. Interested in rare
breed sheep? Read more at the following websites.