British Sheep Breeds

The Balwen Welsh Mountain Sheep

The Balwen Welsh Mountain Sheep is one of the many indigenous sheep breeds which have originated in Wales. It is a versatile breed and a very striking animal with its black and white markings. The Balwen gets its name from the white blaze (Balwen is Welsh for 'white blaze') which runs from the poll (the part of the head between the ears) to the top of the nose. To complete the attractive appearance the lower legs are white and half the tail should be white.

Balwen Welsh Mountain SheepCredit:

The Balwen evolved in the catchment area of the river Tywi (Towy), north of the village of Rhandirmwyn. The catchment area covers the borders of Cardigan, Brecon and Carmarthen with the Llyn Brianne Dam lying above Rhandirmwyn. It has been said that following the winter of 1947, only one Balwen ram remained. It wasn't until the 1970s that there was any interest in the breed outside of its own immediate area.

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The Balwen is only small but it is tough and has very few health problems. The breed has excellent feet and legs as befits animals which live in such mountainous terrain. Rams weigh upwards of 40 kg and ewes are slighter lighter. Fleeces have a staple of 5 to 7.5 cm and weigh from 1.25 to 2 kg. The soft to medium fleece is easy to spin and popular with hand-spinners.

The ewes have well developed maternal instincts and plenty of milk. There are rarely any problems with lambing. Maiden ewes often have only one lamb but twins are not uncommon and occasionally triplets are seen. The lambs are vigorous at birth and on their feet suckling in a very short time. The lambs produce a carcass of a size that is ideal for the home freezer. The meat is sweet and full of flavour.

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The Balwen is easy to manage and requires very little supplementary feeding even in times of stress. During times of plenty, the difficulty lies in preventing them from getting too fat. Ideally, Balwens are black but dark brown or grey are also acceptable. Apart from the blaze, some have a small amount of white on the lower jaw. For show purposes, this should not extend below the top edge of the breastbone. The nose and ears much be totally black with no white at all. Rams should have four socks. The socks should be clearly defined and should not extend past the hocks or knees. Ewes must have at least two clearly defined socks and preferably four. As the breed is still struggling for numbers, it is allowable for animals presented for registration at the moment to have some black on the socks. The lower two-thirds of the tail should be white. Rams should have horns but ewes should be polled.

Although the Balwen is such an ancient breed, the Balwen Welsh Mountain Sheep Society was only formed in 1985. The aim of its members is to preserve and promote the Balwen breed. Breeders of Balwens believe that the breed is truly 'a sheep for all seasons'.