Breed Focus: Castlemilk Moorit

12 October, 2015 - 15:00 | Lara Pollard-Jones

The Castlemilk Moorit has an interesting history.  While some sheep breeds have been around for centuries or have been developed for better meat or fleeces, this breed’s purpose was primarily aesthetic.

In the early 1900s a landowner named Sir Jock Buchanan-Jardine started a breeding programme with the view of breeding horned, brown sheep to graze his Castlemilk Estate in Dumfriesshire.  As well as physical appearance, these sheep needed to have fine kemp-free fleeces that could be processed to provide clothing for his workers.  He achieved this by crossbreeding Manx Loaghtan, moorit coloured Shetlands and Mouflons until the crossbreds themselves started producing consistent offspring.  Once this was achieved the Castlemilk Moorit was officially recognised as a breed.  However, tragedy was to befall this young breed after its creator died in 1970, as aesthetic sheep were not exactly seen as commercial.  Little regard was given to coloured wool at the time and the carcases were very small so most of the Castlemilk Moorits were culled, with only a small number escaping this fate.  The remaining sheep were split into two groups, one of which (six ewes and one ram) was bought by Joe Henson (father of Adam Henson) and moved to the Cotswold Farm Park to begin the regeneration of the breed.

At this point in time, the breed was listed as ‘Critical’ on the Rare Breed Survival Trust watch list as it had considerably less than 300 breeding females.  Slowly, the breed numbers were increased with very careful line breeding.  Due to this care the future of the Castlemilk Moorit is now brighter and though they are still listed as ‘vulnerable’ with less than 900 breeding females, the breed is popular amongst smallholders.

The Castlemilk Moorit breed society has worked tirelessly with its breeders in recent years to identify and record the founder lines so that the genetics can be monitored to help minimise inbreeding.  Through this work the 2014 kinship reports have shown a drop of .6% in inbreeding over the past year to just 5.6%.  One factor which has helped in achieving this is offshore flocks kept in Belgium and the Netherlands which offer separate bloodlines to help ensure a secure future for the breed.

 

Breed statistics:
Size: Small.  Ewes weigh around 40kg, rams around 55kg
Conformation:  (Extract from the Castlemilk Moorit sheep society)
“The head is clean and level between the ears.  The ewes exhibit two uniform and wide spreading horns which are much heavier and even spiralled in rams, avoiding the cheeks.  The neck should be well set on the shoulders following on to a straight back and sprung ribs; the tail is naturally short and narrow.  Both sexes should be upstanding on clean fine-boned legs, with naturally small feet.  Its whole appearance is graceful and well balanced; they are extremely agile and fleet footed.

Light brown or moorit in colour, they have definite Mouflon pattern markings to include white underparts around the eyes, lower jaw, belly, knees and inside lower leg and tail together with a rump patch.”
 

Fleece: The fleece of this sheep tends to weigh no more than 1kg with a staple length of up to 3 inches.  The micron count tends to average out at around 30 though some older sheep will produce up to 40 micron fleeces. 

 

Useful contacts:
Castlemilk Moorit Breed Society:  http://www.castlemilkmooritsociety.co.uk/

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