British Sheep Breeds

The Romney

The Romney is one of Britain's indigenous sheep breeds. It is one of the English longwools and is also known as the Romney Marsh or Kent sheep. As might be expected, it had its beginnings in the marshy areas of Kent in the south of England. This area is noted for its lush and verdant forage. It is also noted for its heavy rainfall and bitter winds.

During the 19th century, the Romney was crossed with the Leicester. Although this resulted in an improved, dual purpose sheep, the extremes of weather in the region saw the development of specialised characteristics which enabled the local breed to better cope with its home ranges. Regardless of the weather, the fleece remained heavy cutting and healthy and the hooves had good resistance to footrot.

Romney Marsh SheepCredit:

The Romney Sheep Breeders Society was incorporated in 1895. Nine years later, in 1904, the New Zealand Romney Sheep Breeders' Association was incorporated. The Romney was also exported to the Falkland Islands and is now the most numerous breed in both New Zealand and the Falklands.

Also in 1904, William Riddell and Sons of Monmouth, Oregon, imported the first Romneys into the United States. American Romneys are based on English blood lines although there have been importations from New Zealand. This has given the breed a more diverse gene pool and the breed is now found across the nation. Romneys from America are bigger than their English counterparts.

British Sheep Breeds (Shire Library)
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British sheep breeds have adapted
to make the best use of native
pasture. A rich range of specialist
regional breed types have
developed as a result.

The versatile Romney produces a lustrous fleece much coveted by hand spinners. It is a strong woolled sheep. The average fibre diameter measurement is sufficiently high that it is especially suited to carpets and upholstery although it is also used for sweaters and heavier cloths.

The fleece is white and free from kemp. It hangs in even-textured, separated locks with minimal cross fibres between the locks. The fleece is easily spun as it has a uniform crimp from the butt of the lock to the tip. Spinning counts vary from 40 to 48 (38 to31 microns) and the fleece is very consistent over the entire body. A ewe fleece may weigh from 8 to 12 pounds. Because of the low grease count there is very little shrinkage on washing. Yields are in the range of 65% to 80%. Commercial producers find the heavy, white fleeces a valuable source of income.

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In days gone by, sheep other than 'white' were culled from commercial wool flocks as even tiny amounts of coloured fibres could contaminate a wool clip and render it worthless. This is no longer the case and nowadays sheep with coloured fleeces are especially valued by spinners and weavers and registration of coloured Romneys are allowed in a special section of the Black and Natural-Coloured Sheep Breeders Association in New Zealand. This followed the first registrations in 1972 of purebred natural coloured Romneys in America. These were registered with the American Romney Breeders' Association by Morris Culver of Curtin, Oregon. Colours ranging from white through silver, grey and brown to black are now available. The low grease count allows easy spinning either in its natural form or after washing and carding. The wool also takes dyes without problems.

The lambs have a high conversion rate of feed to lean, succulent meat. The animals are well-muscled and produce heavy carcasses of the lean meat preferred by today's health conscious consumers.

Although breed standards differ slightly from country to country, common factors are an open face but woolly legs. It is a polled breed with a wide head and large, prominent eyes. The hooves and nose are black. It has a wide, deep chest, straight back and wide loin. The ribs are well sprung and the thighs muscular. Rams weigh from 225 to 275 pounds with the weight of mature ewes ranging from 150 to 200 pounds. The face is white and they have pink skin.

The Romney is not one of Britain's endangered breeds.