British Sheep Breeds
The Wiltshire Horn
The Wiltshire Horn sheep breed is endemic to Great Britain. More particularly it was found over much of Wiltshire although there is evidence to suggest that it originally came from the Mediterranean area. However it is recognised as a British breed and has been in the country for at least a couple of centuries. Much of Wiltshire consists of chalky downs and the Wiltshire is used to travelling long distances of rough, hilly country. Only tough, resilient sheep could cope with these conditions and the Wiltshire is both. Although there were large numbers of the breed in the 17th and 18th centuries, they were almost extinct by the beginning of the 20th century.
Those dedicated to the breed formed a breed society in 1923 and numbers have gradually increased. As its aims, the Wiltshire Horn Sheep Society Ltd. Wishes to maintain, develop and promote the breed on behalf of its membership. The number of Wiltshire Horns is increasing rapidly in the United Kingdom as it is in other countries.
The Society is keen to assist all those involved in the raising and keeping of the Wiltshire Horn, be they commercial farmers, breeders, consumers, smallholders or simply those with an interest in the breed. The Society can help with information on flock management and the purchase of pedigree stock. They also have details of shows and sales which may be held in the future.
The Wiltshire sheds it wool each spring. This is a great benefit to those small farmers who don't shear themselves or don't have adequate facilities for shearing. As mulesing has become more and more unacceptable breeds which naturally shed are creating more interest.
The Wiltshire does not need shearing, mulesing or crutching. It does not need protection from flies or lice so maintenance is much easier and much less expensive. As inherent resistance to worms increases, the Wiltshire will not even need drenching for worms. This will see them very valuable adjuncts in organic enterprises such as olive groves, vineyards and orchards. An added bonus would be the organic status of the offspring resulting in premium prices for carcasses.
Wiltshires first appeared in Australia in the 1950s followed by more imports in the 1970s. Although it reach the endangered list in Australia there are now more Wiltshires in Australia than in Britain and it is one of the most numerous British breeds in Australia. There are a few Wiltshires in the United States and the breed was one of those used to develop the Katahdin breed.
The rams are used as terminal sires to produce prime lambs from Merino or first cross ewes. The rams are also used as 'maternal sires' to create first cross Merino/Wiltshire ewes which are then bred back to a different meat breed to produce prime lambs. Being a well-established and genetically distinct breed gives great hybrid vigour to the progeny.
These first cross ewes may be mated back to Wiltshire. In this way it only takes a few generations before a ewe flock is obtained which is very fertile, has sound maternal instincts and sheds its fleece as well. Again, management costs are minimised.
The Wiltshire is of medium size with adult rams weighing about 250 pounds and ewes 125 to 150 pounds. The body is large, long and well muscled. They are not bothered by hot or cold weather and they do not need docking. They have a high fertility rate, lamb easily and mature at a very young age. Ewes often have twins and the lambs are born with a furry coat which they shed at six to seven weeks of age. The meat is full of flavour and has very little fat. Carcasses dress out at around 60%.
Both ewes and rams are horned. Ewes have a fairly short horn which curves backwards. The rams' horns are very impressive with a spiral loop forming each year until the animal is fully grown. Each year sees the horn thicken a little more. If the horn grows too close to the jaw, it will need to be cut off.
The Wiltshire is white with (sometimes) black spots in the undercoat. A quite heavy and coarse winter coat is shed as soon as the warmer weather arrives. The sheep may aid their shedding by rubbing against trees or fences. The summer coat is of short, straight hair. Adult rams have a 'cape' across the chest. The wool on the head is the first to be shed followed by that down the back then along the sides. It can take several months for the process to be completed. Sometimes ewes appear to be wearing 'pantaloons' of wool at the top of the back legs.
The Wiltshire Horn is an easy keeper and will do well on grass. If food is scarce they will appreciate some hay. Ewes about to lamb may need some grain before lambing and while they are feeding the lambs. On good pasture, they won't need any supplementary feeding.