British Sheep Breeds
The Castlemilk Moorit
The Castlemilk Moorit breed of sheep is one of Great Britain's indigenous breeds. Sir Jock Buchanan-Jardine of Dumfriesshire in Scotland had an estate called Castlemilk. Early in the 20th century, he began to develop a breed that would look good in his parkland. A secondary consideration was that it should have fine, kemp-free, coloured wool. 'Moorit' is a colour, light tan or reddish brown. Moorit wool varies from fawn to a dark reddish brown.
The Castlemilk Moorit is the result of interbreeding wild Mouflon sheep with Manx Loaghtan and moorit-coloured Shetlands. The influence of all three breeds can be seen in the appearance of the Castlemilk Moorit.
The Manx Loaghtan (lugh dhoan – Manx for mouse-brown) is descended from the primitive Scottish sheep that were once found on the mainland and on the Hebridean and Shetland Islands off the coast. The Manx Loaghtan itself is endemic to the Isle of Man. It has dark brown wool and proof of its antiquity can be found in the four to six horns it has.
It is thought that all sheep breeds descended from two ancestors, one of which was the mouflon. Evidence of the mouflon can be seen the typical markings which also appear on the Castlemilk Moorit . These include a white belly, knees and rump. There is also white around the eyes, on the lower jaw and inside the lower leg.
Sir Jock died in 1970 and most of his sheep were culled. Cotswold Farm Park bought six ewes and a ram and all of today's Castlemilk Moorits are descended from these seven animals. With such a small gene pool, some diversity in the breed is allowed.
For a primitive breed, the Castlemilk Moorit is quite large. Mature rams weigh in at about 55kg and ewes are slightly lighter at around 40kg. The neck is set on well to the shoulder, the back is nice and straight and the ribs well sprung. They have a naturally short, narrow, triangular tail. Both ewes and rams have wide spreading horns. Those on the ram are evenly spiralled away from the head. The horns on the ewes are much lighter. They are a good 'park' specimen with an upstanding, graceful appearance. They are well balanced with clean, fine-boned legs. The hooves are slow-growing but small and hard. Even on wet grounds, Castlemilk Moorits never succumb to footrot. From the mouflon, they get great agility and speed.
The Castlemilk Moorit is a dual purpose breed. When slaughtered, the carcass is well fleshed and fine grained. The meat is very lean but superbly flavoured. It has more of a game taste than more conventional breeds.
The University of Bristol Division of Food Animal Science placed the Castlemilk second behind the Suffolk for breeds tested 'off grass'. During the trials, meat from twenty rams of several different breeds was evaluated after standard cooking and tasting tests.
The tight, even fleece has a great reputation with hand-spinners. It also produce tweed cloth of excellent quality. The wool is fine with a good staple of two to three inches and little or no kemp. In most cases the fleece is dark brown. The tips are lighter, being naturally bleached. If the sheep are not shorn, the fleece is shed in summer.
The breed is slow to mature. The influence of the mouflon has resulted in sheep that can be flighty although the breed is more docile than some of the primitive breeds. If handled regularly, they remain much more relaxed. Castlemilk Moorits are tough and will live outdoors throughout the year, needing supplementary hay only through the most sever winters with perhaps some concentrates before lambing. There are problems sometimes when lambing if the ewe has been fed too rich a diet. This can result in a lamb too big to be birthed easily. Single lambs are more common than twins.
The ewes are calm enough but startle easily. They are protective mothers and will use their horns in defence of the lambs if the need arises.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust of Great Britain lists the Castlemilk Moorit as 'vulnerable'. Small populations exist in the Netherlands and Belgium. They are a low maintenance breed with a proud demeanour and popular on hobby farms and smallholdings.