Northern Dairy Shorthorn
A hardy breed, able to survive harsh winter conditions on meagre rations, the Northern Dairy Shorthorn is the world’s rarest breed of cattle. Less than 125 specimens survive today and nearly half of those reside on the Isle of Man.
In the 1950s, they were the commonest breed on the Island and widespread in Great Britain, but commerciality has brought the breed close to extinction. In 2012, six heifers – one in calf – were imported to Clypse Moar. The pregnant heifer calved at Christmas and her son was the first NDS calf born on the Isle of Man in over 50 years.
In Spring 2013, an additional 11 animals – including two young bulls – joined the small herd and they were all moved to Ballaloaghtan farm. By 2016, in collaboration with UK breeders we had grown the worldwide stocks to over 120. On our farm you can see the world’s largest and most significant holding of this ultra-rare breed.
White Park cattle
White Park cattle number among the world’s rarest breeds, and this herd has come to the island to form a genetic breeding stock protected by the Irish sea from the dangers of extinction should disease strike the bigger island to our east.
The animals were part of the iconic “Collegewood” herd, which was dispersed in the English midlands a few yeasr ago after the owner was forced to take his entire stock to market following expiry of an ancient farming lease. White, with black points and black tongues, the cattle are distinctive, rare and … tasty!
The breed, with wide horns and a plaintive facial expression, is known to have existed nearly 2,000 years ago from Irish sagas; they are mentioned again in Welsh legal documents dating from the 800s to 1100s.
Even at that time there was dispute as to their origin; they are popularly believed to be descended from cattle brought by the Romans to England. In the 1800s, Rev John Storer, a noted authority on cattle breeds, averred that they were directly descended from the Wild White cattle which lived wild at a time when Britain was covered with forests. A small number of them today survive in the USA and Canada, but their status is regarded as critical with less than 100 elsewhere in the world and only about 500 in the British Isles. White Parks are genetically distinct from all other British breeds, with their closest genetic relatives being Scottish breeds.
A group of Highland Cattle is not called a herd as for other cows, but a “fold.” The Gaelic word, used in Scotland, is a kyloe. Highlands produce low fat meat because they rely for insulation on their hairy coats and not so much on layers of fat. They are very well adapted for life on poor ground with rough forage, enduring much rain, snow and high winds. The characteristic fringe on the face of the highland is to give protection from snow during severe weather!
Most people imagine reddish-brown cattle when thinking of Highlands. However, they do come too in black yellow, red, black and dun. Highlands are not particularly rare, but they are handsome and spectacular, and highly suited to life on our Island. They are particularly skilful in finding food where other cattle would perish, and they eat many plants and grasses which other cattle would avoid.
200 years ago, there were 20,000 purebred Shetland cattle in the islands. Move the clock forward and at one time the stocks were down to 50, thanks to cross-breeding and various practices designed to improve commercial returns. The breed was almost lost to posterity. Once again, strong work by the RBST resulted in a rescue, a herd book exists again, and today there are 500 more breeding females registered. Shetlands come in red/white and black/white varieties, and our bloodlines manifest both types.
A starter flock of this splendid breed – native to the Brecon Beacons area – was purchased at auction in mid 2012 and early 2013; nine ewes and a tup made their way over to the Isle of Man. It was initially believed that this was the first appearance of the breed on the Island, but subsequent research established that Lord Cussons, of soap fame, had a flock many years ago.
The iconic symbol of Manx agriculture, the Loaghtan sheep neared extinction in the 1980s, with estimates of the surviving population dropping as low as 18. Today, the species is listed as endangered in Great Britain due to the low numbers of registered breeding ewes, but they are now considered as a ‘rescued‘ flock on the Isle of Man, as there are perhaps some 3,500 examples alive and well today, yielding delicious meat, which can be purchased in several Island butcher shops. Manx Rare Breeds are home to a small flock of between 20 and 30 Loaghtans.
Relatively small, the average weight of an adult Portland ram is 55kg, rarely exceeding 66kg and 65cm at the withers. The body of the Portland is of a primitive type within the Downs breeds, with good width between the legs. The tail is long and set well up on the rump.
The face is a tan colour, but may have lighter areas around the eyes and muzzle, with and a dark nose. Some sheep carry a light covering of wool on the forehead, but the rest of the face is free from wool. Horns are a light colour; the rams are heavily spiralled; in ewes they curve through a half circle. There is often a black line in either one or both horns.
Lambs are born with a foxy red coat, which changes in the first few months to creamy white. The wool is close and fine with a short staple, though some red kemp fibres should be found on the britch.
Boreray Sheep have a close geographical and social link with Soay Sheep, but the two breeds are genetically different. The Boreray Sheep is a descendant of the domestic sheep which were kept by the St. Kildans.
Despite being partially derived from a long-tailed breed (the Scottish Blackface), Borerays display characteristics that group them with other northern European short-tailed sheep. They are amongst the smallest sheep in the British Isles, with mature ewes weighing 28 kg (62 lb) and standing 55 cm (22 in) at the withers. Less than 300 survive today, with about 10% of the worldwide population at Manx Rare Breeds.
One of three “primitive” breeds nurtured at Ballaloaghtan, this sheep comes from Soay Island in the St Kilda Group off the west coast of Scotland. Soay means “Sheep Island” and the feral flock there is ancestral to a handful of exotic groups existing on the UK mainland, both in captivity and in feral state. A particularly hardy breed, it is classified as “at risk” by the RBST because only around 1,000 registered breeding ewes remain. From a produce point of view, each sheep gives only about 1 kg of fleece each year, though it is very fine and highly sought-after by weavers. The carcase is small, producing a low cholesterol meat but with a strong gamey flavour. One of many distinct characteristics of Soay is that they do not have a herding instinct, meaning that if a sheepdog attempts to control them they disperse in different directions. It is possible that the Soay has existed in more or less its present configuration for about 6 million years.
NORTH RONALDSAY SHEEP
Uniquely, this breed is known for its ability to survive for most of the year eating seaweed; it has developed an ability to process the sugar in seaweed for nutritional. On the island of North Ronaldsay, north of Scotland, the islanders confine the sheep to the foreshore by a wall throughout most of the year, allowing them to the limited grazing inland only during the lambing season. It is a primitive sheep, small in stature and bred mainly for wool. North Ronnies have a vulnerability to copper traces making the Isle of Man, with its mineral deficient soil, a safe haven for them.
OXFORD DOWN SHEEP
The largest sheep on our farm is the Oxford, an English breed dating back to the 1830s. It produces a relatively high weight of meat and an impressive quantity of wool. The RBST classifies it “at risk” with between 900 and 1500 breeding ewes remaining in existence.
NORFOLK HORN SHEEP
Another meat-producing animal, the Norfolk Horn has an amazing history of near-extinction and a return to our world in recent history. It is tough and lightly built, and famed for its jumping (escaping) ability. By the First World War only one flock survived, and after the Second World War the remaining number fell to 10 ewes and two rams. The last pure-bred ram died in 1973, and in the mid-1980s only a concerted, dedicated effort by the RBST brought it back from Category 1 to Category 4. Today there are over 900 registered ewes and the breed has earned new fans and recognition for conservation grazing. Norfolk Horns do particularly well on wet uplands, meaning that they thrive on our marshy fields below South Barrule.
Greyface Dartmoor Sheep
Greyface Dartmoor Sheep
The name says it all and this is a moorland sheep, descended and improved from ancient types that grazed Dartmoor in ancient times. The fleece is more wavy than curly and covers the entire animal except the face. It’s hardy, deals with almost all weather types outdoors, and grazes many types of pasture and vegetation.
A primitive type, the Hebridean was probably introduced into the Scottish highlands and islands by the Vikings. Its fleece is black, often jet black, and while small it is resilient, eats almost any type of vegetation, and may have a natural resistance to foot diseases. The ewes are excellent mothers though production is not prolific.
Native to the Teesdale area, County Durham, the Teeswater is a long, tall sheep. However, the most prominent feature is the fleece, which is long and curly with a topknot on the head. Well managed, a flock of Teeswaters is capable of an average of over two lambs per ewe, per year. Its fine wool is very much in demand with hand spinners, while the meat is lean and fast-growing.
Only two breeds of goat appear on the RBST watchlist, of these, the Golden Guernsey is without doubt the most beautiful and striking animal. In mid 2013, we imported a small group of three billies and five nans, distributing them among our Island friends and carefully planning a breeding programme to avoid inbreeding, despite the low numbers.
LARGE BLACK PIGS
The name says it all! The only British pig that is entirely black, and with relatively huge body size, this docile and versatile animal was popular a hundred years ago but narrowly avoided extinction in the 1960s. The breed is still considered vulnerable by the RBST, Category 3 with 200 to 300 breeding sows remaining in existence. Females generally produce large litters of piglets. The Large Black is also known as the Cornwall Black, or the Devon Pig, giving a clue to its origins, though historically there was probably much breeding with smaller black pigs from the South East of England.
The large black is best suited for extensive farming as opposed to intensive indoor work, which is the reason for its decline. It produces tasty bacon without excessive back fat, so is popular with connoisseurs of pork products. Unlike white pigs, blacks are not vulnerable to sunburn, though that is hardly a high risk on our rainy, overcast island!