British Sheep Breeds

The Exmoor Horn

The Exmoor Horn sheep is an ancient breed, endemic to the Exmoor region of Great Britain and regarded as one of its heritage breeds. It is a 'hill breed', along with such breeds as the Kerry Hill, Herdwick and Welsh Mountain.  Such animals typically display qualities of hardiness and thriftiness that see them well suited to the harsh conditions and poor quality grazing that is often their lot.

Exmoor Horn SheepCredit: Wikimedia

It is a dual purpose sheep and fits well into conservation landscapes. It has a significant role to play in today's farming practices, particularly in its own region.

It is endemic to the hills of Exmoor National Park. This area is beautiful but harsh in winter and sparse of grazing. Like the Exmoor pony, it will thrive on nothing but grass at altitudes up to 450 metres. The value of the heritage breeds is again being recognised although not soon enough to stop the extinction of some. The Exmoor National Park Sustainable Development Fund is now actively promoting the breed while discouraging the influx of non-native breeds. The Mutton Renaissance Club is raising awareness of the excellent flavour and texture of mutton raised on grass in the traditional method without any supplementary feeding. Exmoor Horn mutton is a traditional speciality product and is again being regarded as a delicacy.

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It has horns (obviously) with both sexes having large curling horns. The average weight for ewes is around 50kg and 73kg for rams. The fleece and face are white and the nostrils black. The skin is cherry-coloured. It has good longevity because, like the Dalesbred, it retains its teeth longer than some breeds so is able to hold its condition and continue to produce. It is a quiet, docile breed, easily managed and not prone to going through fences. The ewes have excellent maternal instincts and provide abundant milk for their lambs.

The Exmoor mule is highly regarded as a crossbred ewe which produces excellent prime lambs. The Blue Leicester is usually the other half of the cross and the mule is in high demand by lowland farmers. The Border Leicester cross also produces a good sized animal which is quiet and easily managed.

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The Exmoor Horn Sheep Breeders' Society was founded in 1906 and a Flock Book established. A year later, the first registered sale and show was held at Winsford in Somerset. A year later (1908), membership had risen to 132 and 25,000 purebred Exmoor Horn sheep had been inspected. A celebration of the Centenary of the Exmoor Horn Sheep Breeders' Society was held in 2006. By 2007, there were 80 flocks registered covering 19,000 ewes.

The fleece is fine in quality. It is of medium length and light in grease. The attractive wool has a good colour and sound staple with a count of 48 to 56. It is ideal for hosiery yarn and fine tweeds and has unique felting qualities. The fleece from a ewe weighs from 3 to 3.5kg and that from a ram 5 to 6kg.

The Exmoor Horn seems firmly established, especially in its native region to which it is so well adapted. It plays an important part in sustaining the delicate balance of the moor.