The Ryeland is an ancient breed of downland sheep, thought to have originated in the Leominster area of Herefordshire. It is said that the Ryeland is probably the oldest of the recognised British breeds of sheep and that no other British breed can claim greater historical data. The Ryeland Society was founded in 1903 and the first flock book was published in 1909, but various authorities identify the Ryeland back to the 12th century and the breed has a fairly clear history of some 800 years. They have been renowned for more than six centuries, since the time when the monks of Leominster bred sheep in the rye growing areas for the dual purpose of meat from the lambs and the production of a fine woollen fleece ideal for hand spinning.
Until recently they were classified as a rare breed, but thanks to dedicated breeders and the Rare Breed Survival Trust, there are now sufficient numbers in Britain for it to be classified as a ‘minority’ breed.
The Ryeland was originally best known for its production of fine wool and its natural habitat ensured a hardy constitution. Today the Ryeland is increasingly valued for its tasty meat, gentle nature and being relatively easy to look after, characteristics which make it popular with small holders. They are also sought after by commercial breeders for quick maturing lambs and group 1 scrapie resistance genotyping.
The Ryeland has a smart appearance when walking or standing with its head held high. They are of medium build with a straight back and a fairly deep broad chest. They have a good quality fleece covering every part including belly and part of the face. The main pedigree breed is white, however you can get coloured Ryelands.
The Ryeland is a dual-purpose sheep which produces high quality wool and tasty meat, lending itself to extensive farming as it is a sheep that does well on good grass alone and has a placid temperament and is easy to manage.
Established in 2006 with five shearing ewes, the flock now has 130 females producing around 170 lambs. The ewes are put to the ram in November, so lambing takes place indoors in April.
At the end of April, the ewes and lambs are turned to grass, weaning is in August – the males are usually kept to become hogget and slaughtered in the spring, ewe lambs kept are normally kept as replacement ewes.
The grass-fed lamb is supplied to local butchers, restaurants, and Clifford’s two restaurants The Hall and The Beach, situated on the Isles of Scilly.