|Clun Forest Sheep Ewe|
Well, since it's the Year of the Sheep, I thought I had better get busy writing about some sheep. I actually thought there wouldn't be much to write about, because how many kinds of sheep could there be? You've got your white sheep, your black sheep, your white sheep with black faces, and maybe some spotted sheep. And then there a few goats, like those cute little pygmy goats, for example.
So imagine my total shock when I looked up "sheep breeds" and found out that there are hundreds of them! And not only that, I haven't really heard of any of them! Which I guess means that it will be a busy Year of the Ram after all!
|The County of Shropshire|
Anyway, I decided to start with some of those English sheep that have the black faces, because I think they are really cool-looking. So I scrolled through the list of sheep breeds until I found just what I was looking for. There may be other breeds that fit the same description, but the one I'm going to tell you about today is the Clun Forest Sheep. ("Clun" rhymes with "sun," in case you were wondering.)
The Clun Forest is in the county of Shropshire, which is right nextdoor to Wales. It is a rural area, and it has lots of open pastures and moorlands, besides actually having some woodlands. Once upon a time, there was a much thicker forest in the Clun River Valley, but there aren't so many trees now.
Clun Forest sheep are similar to other breeds of British Upland sheep. They are hardy, good at finding plenty of forage to eat, and they live a long time. The ewes give birth easily, and almost always have twins. The wool on these sheep is medium in length and is suitable for handspinning. Besides being raised for their wool, Cluns are also kept for meat and for milk.
|U.K. Clun ewes imported to the Netherlands|
The ancestors of this breed go back a long way and are shared with other Upland breeds along the Welsh-English border. When the Clun Forest sheep were first mentioned in writing, early in the 1800s, they were described as having white faces. But this changed when they were crossed with some dark-faced breeds. In 1925, The Clun Forest Sheep Breeders Society was formed in Great Britain. They soon established a pedigree standard and started having sheep shows.
After World War II, and until the 1970s, the Clun became a very popular breed. In fact, it was the third most popular purebred sheep in the U.K. Breeders sold over a thousand sheep a year, with flocks being established in eastern England, Scotland, and Ireland.
|Cluns from the Court Llacca Flock in Wales|
In 1970, a man named Tony Turner imported 2 Clun rams and 39 ewes to the U.S. The North American Clun Forest Association (NACFA) was founded in 1974. A few more sheep were imported in the late 1970s and mid-1980s, but after that, U.S. and Canadian borders were closed to live sheep imports. However, semen from some of the top rams in the U.K. and the Netherlands was imported in the mid-2000s.
Clun Forest Sheep have a powerful build. Their upright ears make the sheep look alert and intelligent, as if they as just waiting for you to say something profound. The lambs grow quickly because of the high butterfat content of the mothers' milk. By the age of 7 or 8 months, they can reach a market weight of 100 lbs., eating only grass. The meat has a lean and mild flavor. The rich milk makes good cheese.
Well, writing about all this yummy mutton and cheese is making me hungry. I know that some of my faithful readers will be horrified to think that I would want to eat a cute, fluffy lamb, but the fact is that there is lots of dog food out there on the market that has lamb in it. I have eaten some of it, and I have liked it. Also, a lot of people eat lamb, too, but Mom doesn't because she is being a vegetarian now.
Okay, so that's the first sheep breed in the Year of the Sheep. I think I am going to learn a lot about sheep before the year is over, and probably about goats, too.