Friday, December 10, 2010

Sue Weaver: Classic Cheviots

I’m thinking of sheep more these days, now that I’m writing Keep Sheep, the third in Storey’s Backyard Livestock series (the first two cover goats and cattle), and the topic is dear to my heart.

A few months after we moved here from Minnesota, I was given two old sheep, Dodger and Angel. I was so taken with them that I began researching breeds, searching for one to raise. I liked my Minnesota friend’s full-size Cheviots but thought Miniature Cheviots would be better for our farm. They’re fairly scarce, so fate smiled on me when I found a breeder in central Missouri.

Baamadeus is a model Classic Cheviot ram.

My first purchases consisted of a ram and a mother/daughter/granddaughter package. They were exquisite! I fell in love. I am a lifelong Arabian horse advocate, so type means a lot to me, especially heads; beautifully arched profiles; small horselike ears, and huge, luminous eyes. My new sheep had all of that and luscious wool and the long, broad bodies and short legs of turn-of-the-century Border Cheviots. This was the type of sheep I knew I wanted to raise.

Border Cheviots, now called South Country Cheviots, originated in the treeless, windswept Cheviot Hills straddling the border between Scotland and Northumberland in England. Originally called “long sheep” (a name used since at least 1470) or “white sheep” (to differentiate them from Scottish Blackface), they were (and still are) a dual-purpose wool and meat breed of extreme hardiness. Sadly, they were so hardy and so desirable during the mid-1700s that English landlords, in what is known as the Highland Clearances, cleared crofters from their hardscrabble homes to replace them with Cheviot sheep. By 1791 Sir John Sinclair, then president of the British Board of Agriculture, said, "The highlands of Scotland, if covered with the coarse wool breeds of sheep, their wool might be worth 300,000 pounds of sterling, whereas, if the same ground were covered by the Cheviot, the true mountain breed, it would be worth at least 900,000 pounds sterling of fine wool.”

This long-bodied Cheviot was drawn in 1798,
during the time of the Highland Clearances.

Border Cheviots came to North America, especially Canada, as early as the 1840s. In 1924 fanciers formed the American Cheviot Sheep Society. North American breeders subsequently developed a longer-legged, meatier Cheviot for today's market. The old-style Cheviot, however, still persists to some degree in Britain — and in my little sheep.

The first flock of old-fashioned, short-legged Cheviots destined to become registered Miniature Cheviots came to America from a livestock sale barn in British Columbia; beyond that, the breed’s exact origin is uncertain. Early promoters called them Brecknock Hill Cheviots after a similar but unrelated Cheviot-based breed from northern Wales. However, when the registry reorganized in 2006, the name was changed to American Miniature Cheviot sheep, though they aren’t true miniatures — they’re unimproved, historic Border Cheviot sheep.

Baaasha's profile exemplified the Classic Cheviot.

Now several friends and I are creating a secondary flock book/registry, the American Classic Cheviot Sheep Association, to register and promote these old-style woollies. We feel it’s necessary because many Miniature Cheviot fanciers breed for size alone. Their sheep are cute and elfin, but Border Cheviot type? No, indeed. It’s an adventure! Stay tuned for new developments.

And we’re making matings for the coming year, with lambs due in Washington, Iowa, and Arkansas so far.

Wren (Wolf Moon Wren), the beautiful young ewe who gave me twin ram lambs this past April, is due to lamb again on March 26, hopefully with ewe lambs this time. Baamadeus, my jolly black ram with the crumpled ear, is their papa.

Wren displays the short legs and
broad body of the breed.

And today we penned two first-time future moms, Hope and Izzy, with Rumbler for May lambs, depending on when they come in heat.

Lambs! I can hardly wait!

Hope's lambs will be born in May.

Hope and her brother Maxx when they were lambs

Because they are scattered across the country and rarely publicized, there isn’t a strong market for these sheep. I’m so grateful I’ll be able to introduce them to new folk through the pages of Keep Sheep. I love my little sheep, and I think, once they know about them, Storey’s readers will love them, too.

On a sad note the third of my first four wee woollies passed on to greener pastures early last week. She was retired and only 11, so we hoped she’d live several more years. It’s been a cycle of loss, saying goodbye to Dodger and Baasha, then Baasha’s daughters, Rebaa and Baatiste. The ewes, however, live on through their offspring. Rumbler and Baamadeus are old Baasha’s sons; Wren is Rebaa’s daughter and Hope, Baatiste’s. I’ll post about their lambs when they arrive.

Sweet Rebaa passed on to greener pastures last week.

Only Shebaa remains of my first four wee Cheviots.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and Get Your Goat! to be published in 2010. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

Visit my Dreamgoat Annie Web and The Mopple Chronicles

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently bought two Border Cheviot ewes, and plan to use one of their lambs in 4-H this year (here in Canada they're still called Border Cheviots, not South Countrys...?). Anyways, mine are of the 'classic' type as well, with their shorter legs and compact bodies. Unfortunately this may get looked down upon in the show ring since everyone thinks bigger is better. ):