British Sheep Breeds

The Dalesbred

The Dalesbred sheep is one of Great Britain's native sheep breeds. It is a dual purpose breed, raised for meat and wool, and endemic to the upper reaches of the Yorkshire Dales and surrounding areas. This area is comprised of the central area of the Pennines and includes the borders of North Lancashire, Cumbria and the North and West Ridings of Yorkshire.

The Dalesbred has been developed from the Swaledale and the Scottish Blackface. All three breeds have black faces although often with white markings. They also have low-set, rather wide, round horns. The face of the Swaledale should have a dark upper section and white lower half.

Scottish Blackface SheepCredit: Wikimedia

Scottish Blackface (above)

With such tough animals in its pedigree, it is no wonder that the Dalesbred is well adapted to climatic changes and can survive in extreme weather conditions. The Dalesbred has an extended productive life due to its tooth retention. The first Flock Book was produced in 1931, documenting the pedigrees of rams and ewes put up for registration.

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The most distinctive feature of the Dalesbred is the round, low horns. Ewes weigh from 45 to 60kg and rams 55 to 80kg.

It is a white breed with a black face. There is a white mark above each nostril. The end of the muzzle is grey. The legs are black and white. The fleece is a double fleece, curly on the outside with a dense undercoat.

In its home area, most ewe lambs are used to breed pure-breds for three to four years. Wethers are fattened on the home farm or sold as stores. After this three to four year period, ewes are then sold to lowland farmers as draft ewes for crossbreeding. A popular cross is with Teeswater rams. The progeny are known as Masham, one of the most famous of British crossbreds. Bluefaced Leicesters provide another popular cross.

Much of the breed is hefted. During the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, the breed was in danger of extermination due to its geographical location.

On the high fells, lambs are born in April or May. They spend their first summer on the fells. Mating is delayed until they are around 18 months old. On the hills, ewes produce 120 to 140% lambing average. On lowland farms with good management, this figure rises to 150 to 200%.

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Shearing takes place in June or July. Most of the wool goes to make carpet with some being made into tweed cloth. Fleeces weigh from 1.5 to 3kg.

Ram lambs are inspected. They are then tagged with individual numbers and the owner's flock number. Registered shearlings may be sold at the sales in autumn. The pedigrees of the rams are included in the annual flock bookas is the total number of ewes owned by each breeder. Ewes are also given individual numbers.

For some time, Dalesbred breeders have adopted a programme of blood testing all rams. This was to determine their resistance to the debilitating and fatal disease called scrapie. Such genetic profiling has resulted in the eradication of the disease.

The Dalesbred is important in the maintenance of the local landscape. To sustain the natural balance of the area and to preserve its native flora and fauna, the age-old environmental factors need to be maintained and continued. The Dalesbred sheep is very much a part of this.