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What Are Welsh Mountain Sheep?

Welsh Mountain Sheep mainly eat grass and hay.
Welsh Mountain Sheep are hill sheep that are native to Wales.
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  • Written By: Diane Barnard
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 22 June 2014
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Welsh Mountain Sheep are a breed of sheep with several sub-breeds or varieties. It is a primitive breed of hill sheep native to Wales. There are five varieties in the Welsh Mountain Sheep breed: Welsh Mountain Sheep, Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep, Balwen Welsh Mountain Sheep, Black Welsh Mountain Sheep and South Wales or South Welsh Mountain Sheep.

All varieties of this type of sheep are small hill sheep. The upland regions of Wales are hilly and mountainous. These animals survive the harsh conditions and low quality vegetation of upland Wales. Lowland breeds of sheep live in the more fertile valleys where climate and grazing conditions are more favorable. The weights of hill sheep vary depending on which environment they are living in, with the weights being greater when they are grazed on the high-quality pastures of the lowlands.

Generally, all Welsh mountain sheep have been selected for hardiness, mothering ability and lamb survival. They are healthy sheep, not plagued with the diseases common to more modern sheep breeds. The ewes will deliver and raise one lamb per season on the hill conditions of low-quality forage. Their feet are not susceptible to rot and do not require frequent trimming, and their tails do not need docking.

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This type of sheep is easy to maintain on pasture and hay alone, rarely requiring supplementary feed. The fleece is close-textured for protection against the harsh elements of upland Wales. Rams in most varieties have horns; the ewes are polled. All Welsh mountain sheep are reputed to have good, flavorful meat with a good meat-to-bone ratio.

The Welsh Mountain Sheep variety is a small, white ovine. The rams weigh about 176 pounds (80 kg). The ewes weigh 77 pounds (35 kg) in hill conditions but might weigh as much as 110 pounds (50 kg) in improved lowland situations.

Badger face Welsh mountain sheep have distinctive markings that set them apart from other sheep breeds. There are two-color patterns of the badger-like markings for this variety. The Torddu is an off-white, tan or gray animal with black stripes on the face, a black underside and black legs with a light-colored stripe. The Torwen pattern is a black or dark brown base color with white stripes near the eyes; white on the lower jaw, throat, inner ears and belly; and tan legs with a black stripe. The ewes weigh 88-132 pounds (40-60 kg), and the rams weigh as much as 198 pounds (90 kg).

The Balwen Welsh mountain sheep were isolated to the Tywi Valley in Wales. The bitter winter of 1947 almost wiped out the entire breed; only one ram survived. The breed rebuilt and in the 1970s, and people outside the region became interested in these unique-looking sheep. The body color is black, brown or dark gray, and they have a wide white face blaze, white feet and half-white tails. The horned rams weigh 99 to 132 pounds (45-60 kg), and ewes range from 88 to 110 pounds (40 to 50 kg).

The black Welsh mountain sheep became a variety when 19th century shepherds selectively bred the black sheep that normally occurred. The rams weigh 132 to 143 pounds (60-65 kg), and the ewes weigh about 99 pounds (45 kg). The South Wales mountain sheep also is known as the South Welsh mountain sheep or Nelson sheep. It is the largest of the Welsh Mountain Sheep breeds. Rams can reach weights of 187 pounds (85 kg), and ewes average 121 pounds (55 kg). These white sheep with tan markings on the legs and face often have a brown collar of wool around their necks.

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