Sheep on Orford Ness
Walking along our visitor trails, you will find members of the Orford Ness sheep flock, made up of a mix of several different breeds – most of them rare-breeds that you may not have heard of before.
Why are the sheep on the Ness
The marshes on Orford Ness have been used as grazing land for centuries. Today the sheep play an important part in maintaining healthy habitats for the many species of wildlife that live here. After the nesting birds have left with their chicks in late spring, the sheep are brought in to prepare the land for the next breeding season.
Along with cutting the grass for hay to feed the sheep over winter and mowing of the more invasive species like sea club rush, the grazing animals maintain a mosaic of different vegetation types and heights. This supports a great variety of wildlife. By breeding lambs from pure bred parents we are also conserving the breeds themselves.
Who looks after them?
Andrew the Shepherd and his dog Kite and a gang of dedicated volunteers look after the sheep on Orford Ness and elsewhere. Anyone who has been lucky enough to listen to one of Andrew’s talks on an open day will take on board his enthusiasm and knowledge.
To take best advantage of the variety of National Trust sites in Suffolk – and the variety of landscapes – our flock is moved around different properties depending on the time of year, but here are the different breeds you may meet here at Orford Ness.
White Faced Woodland
The White Faced Woodland are one of the larger breeds of sheep with a white fleece, white face and both the rams and the ewes grow horns – with the rams growing large outward spiralling horns curving in tight to their faces. They grow to be large sheep with the rams averaging 130kg.
In the 1970s the breed had to be saved from extinction by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and there remains only 900 breeding females of the breed left in Great Britain, meaning they are still classed as vulnerable. These are strong animals and able to survive on poor-quality grass, rough terrain and out in bad weather.
The Manx Loaghtan (pronounced Locktun) are a small, primitive, rare breed which have been roaming the Isle of Man for over a thousand years.
They have brown wool and brown faces, with lambs starting with black wool that soon starts to lighten up into brown. Both the rams and ewes have horns – the amount of which varies: sometimes just two, often four or occasionally even six.
In the 1950s they nearly became extinct, numbers dropping to only 43 but have since been rescued. They remain an ‘at risk’ breed with less than 1,500 breeding females left.
Originating from and still usually found in the Lake District, the Herdwick’s are the newest members to our flock, starting with just two which soon grew to six in spring 2018 and the arrival of lambs. The lambs are born with black wool, turning blue-grey as they age and white or grey faces. The rams have white, curved horns but the ewes are without horns.
The name Herdwick has is believed to have its root in the Old Norse ‘herdvyck’ meaning ‘sheep pasture’. Beatrix Potter was well known for her Herdwick flock and won several awards with them. It is believed that two thirds of all breeding female Herdwick’s currently live on National Trust property.
Hebrideans have a black face and legs with large heavily ridged horns that curve up and then back and outwards, sharing a similar ancestor with the Manx Loaghtan. Their fleece is mainly black though this might fade to brown with sunlight or turn grey with age.
Able to survive with little supervision and on poor grazing, they were the main breed of sheep in the Western Isles and Highlands of Scotland until the end of the eighteenth-century. As more commercial breeds found favour, however, their numbers dropped significantly and were saved primarily by their popularity with country estates – where they were romantically renamed St. Kilda sheep. The breed has since been restored and is no longer regarded as a rare breed.