Our Sheep
Chiltern Lamb currently runs 120 breeding ewes which typically produce 190 lambs each year of which we sell around 160. We are gradually building the flock through a mixture of retaining good quality ewe lambs as breeding stock, and buying in young animals to increase both genetic diversity and the range of breeds we keep. We currently have eight different breeds of sheep - Jacob, Black Welsh, Balwen, Torrdu-Badger Face, Portland, Herdwick, Devon and Cornwall Longwool and Soay.

Rare breeds have become rare because they are not regarded as commercially viable, taking longer to reach maturity than those breeds now most widely used in commercial sheep rearing. They also produce fewer lambs, a flock averaging 1.5 lambs per ewe (ie some producing one and some two lambs) rather than the two or occasionally three lambs that modern commercial ewes produce. However, modern sheep rearing is an intensive production system which requires supplementary feeding and high veterinary product use to finish the lambs quickly and maintain them in good health.

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.
There 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:
   No        Description          Number of registered
                                           breeding ewes in the UK

    1              Critical                      Less than 300
    2          Endangered                       300-500
    3           Vulnerable                        500-900
    4              At Risk                          900-1500
    5             Minority                         1500 - 3000
    6              Other            British breeds More than 3000
There 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 British agriculture.

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.

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