Ryeland Sheep

Ryeland sheep are amongst the oldest of the established British sheep breeds and originated in Herefordshire. In 1952 there were only 40 Ryeland flocks remaining. By 1974, only 980 registered breeding ewes remained, a situation which caused it to be listed as rare by the then newly formed Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The combined efforts of the RBST, the Ryeland Flock Book Society and a band of dedicated breeders have turned around the breed’s fortunes.

Today it is numerically healthy and has been reclassified by the RBST as a minority breed. The number of flocks has risen, but flock sizes are much smaller than previously, bearing out the fact that most Ryelands are now kept as “hobby” sheep, rather than as a commercial breed. The Ryeland Flock Book Society has in the region of 500 members made up of Ryeland and Coloured Ryeland breeders.

Ryeland sheep sometimes produce coloured lambs as the result of the expression of recessive colour genes. These Coloured Ryelands have no gene for whiteness and so, when bred together, alwaysproduce coloured lambs. Fleece colours vary from palest silver through many shades of grey to black. Occasionally fawn or dark brown may occur and the body colour may be uniform or spotted or patched.

Ryeland Sheep – Breed Characteristics

All pedigree animals must be white throughout.

  • Head – Medium length, masculine in rams, head with no trace of horn and face showing character, strengthband constitution.
  • Face – Medium length, dull white in colour, relatively free of wool, dark skin around the nose, nostrils notcontracted. White hair on dark skin around eye; eye bright and clear of wool.
  • Ears – Medium size, carried slightly back (not heavy or hanging down), dark colour – either brown shade with white hair (sometimes spotted with black) or covered with short white wool.
  • Neck – Strong, broad and set on so as to give the head a bridled appearance.
  • Shoulders – Smoothly and well set, no depression behind.
  • Chest – Broad and fairly deep.
  • Back – Straight, level from the base of the neck to setting of tail, which should be broad.
  • Ribs – Well sprung, body well down forming good bottom line.
  • Legs of Mutton – Full, well let down. Good length of hind quarter from hip to dock.
  • Legs and Feet – Dull white colour, single black spot not objected to as it is invariably a birthmark and not hereditary. Legs below knee and hock straight. Compact feet firmly set.
  • Skin – Healthy pink colour except where otherwise stated.
  • Flesh – Even and firm handling all over.
  • Carriage – Smart appearance when walking or standing. Head held high.
  • Fleece – To be good in quality, stronger in rams than in ewes, deep in staple, thickly set on skin, handlingfirmly, close level appearance, every part including belly and purse well covered, except whereotherwise stated. Free from coarseness, kemp, black, grey or rusty fibres.

Style and Character

The skin around the eye and nose should be black. Ears of medium length, carried slightly back, not heavy and hanging down. Dark shade being the most desirable either of a brown shade without hair or with white hair, spotted with black, but not grey. Sometimes covered with short wool which must, of course be white, but an ear free from wool is preferable. White or pink ears or a white nose show anything but ryeland character and should be avoided.