British Sheep Breeds

The Brecknock Hill Cheviot

The Brecknock Hill Cheviot sheep breed is one of the United Kingdom's native breeds and was one of the first to come under the scrutiny of the National Scrapie Plan (NSP). The United Kingdom established the NSP with the intention of gradually culling those sheep which did not have a genetic resistance to the disease, scrapie.

Scrapie is incurable, infectious and degenerative. It affects the brain and is mostly confined to sheep although it is occasionally seen in goats. Much about the disease is not fully understood. It occurs in the UK and many other countries but not in Australia or New Zealand. The clinical signs include loss of condition, weakness of the hind limbs, skin irritation and excitability. These symptoms develop gradually months or even years after the animal is first infected.

Brecknock CheviotCredit:

The NSP was instituted with the original aims of dot point protecting animal health by reducing and eventually eradicating scrapie and dot point protecting public health from the theoretical risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad-cow disease. There was a school of thought which subscribed to the idea that scrapie could mask BSE.

The Brecknock Hill cheviot is a strain of Cheviot as hardy as its ancestors. It also goes by the name of Brecon Cheviot or Sennybridge Cheviot.

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It is endemic to the wet uplands and hills of Brecknockshire, Wales, in particular the hills of the Brecon Beacons and Sennybridge. These exposed, rough hills ensure that only the fit and hardy survive. Although the breed has been around for some 400 years, it was only recognised in the mid 1850s. The original border (Scottish) cheviots were very small with a tan face and closely resembled their cousins, the Olde Welsh Mountain sheep. The original cheviots were crossed with the Welsh Mountain which improved the wool quality. Later, in the late 1850s, the Leicester was also used to improve the cheviot.

The Brecknock Hill cheviots are only about 23 inches in height. The face and legs are white and there is a ruff of wool behind the erect ears. There is no wool on the face or lower legs. Generally they are a polled breed although an occasional ram will have horns. Mature rams weigh in the vicinity of 90kg and the ewes 60kg. Hill flocks have a lambing rate of around 90%. However on the lowlands this can increase to 180%. The Brecknock Hill cheviot tends to have a calmer nature than other strains.

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Fleeces may have some kemp and fleece weights range from 1.5 to 2.5kg. The wool is popular with hand-spinners and is mostly used for tweeds and knitwear.

The Brecknock Hill cheviot adapts to most systems of husbandry and is economical to keep. They produce good quality meat and wool. When put to a terminal sire the lambs are ideal for the prime lamb market, being of a consistent quality and weighing in the desired range of 16 to 21 kg. When crossed with a native Welsh Hill breed, or with Suffolks or Blue/Border Leicesters, a very useful crossbred ewe is produced. The rams are often used over native mountain breeds to add size to the frame and quality to the wool.