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Derbyshire Gritstone Sheep

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The basics:
The Derbyshire Gritstone sheep is an ancient breed of blackfaced sheep developed in the Goyt Valley, Peak District, Derbyshire, England. This is a mixed environment breed that's classed as a Lowland, Hill and Mountain breed.

The Derbyshire Gritstone was developed in the 1770s and was originally called the Dale O'Goyt sheep. This is the oldest English hill sheep breed. It was developed as a hardy dual-purpose breed with a medium-fine wool and a good carcass weight.

The Derbyshire Gritstone Sheepbreeders Society was established in 1906 by twenty-seven of the breed farmers to establish a stud flock book.

This is a very hardy breed with excellent mothering abilities and a twinning percentage of 145%. The wool of the modern breed is of superior quality and used for fine wollenwear. It is a polled breed and is often crossed with other hill breeds to remove horns in the progeny.

Flocks of Derbyshire Gritstone sheep are now established in the upland regions of England, Scotland and Wales. For a hill sheep, the Derbyshire Gritstone Sheep also matures rapidly, with lambs reaching 18kg dress weight at sixteen weeks on the hill to 20kg in ten weeks on marginal land.

This is a breed that's of considerable interest in the improving of upland flocks.

Appearance / health:
The Derbyshire Gritstone Sheep large and big boned with a clean-cut black and white marked face and legs clear of wood. The body is well-woolled and the wool is fine and of god quality (it clips with a definite staple formation of medium length of 52's to 56's quality count). The legs are widely spaced, white in base colour with black markings. The hooves are black The breed is very sure-footed and suited to even steep mountainsides. The head is well proportioned and the ears are upright, giving an alert appearance. The body is short but very stockily built with good musculature in the fore and hind quarters. The neck is short and the back slopes down slightly towards the tail.

Both rams and ewes are polled (without horns).

The Derbyshire Gritstone has been selectively bred to be healthy and to be extremely hardy. Under normal circumstances they require little maintenance. But in large flocks they are prone to the viral and parasitic diseases that affect all sheep. Soremouth (orf) is not uncommon, but can be treated by vaccination. Lambs are prone to ringworm and intestinal parasites, so a worming regimen is always recommended.

They are generally a low-maintenance breed requiring minimal husbandry. But like all sheep they need hoof trimming on richer pastures. On their native upland pastures foot rot is rare and trimming is required only once a year. They can be left outside all year and as long as there is sufficient fodder they will not wander. They are very good and protective mothers and on average produce a 145% lambing rate in a season (though this an rise to 160% or more on lowland farms).

Behavior / temperament:
Derbyshire Gritstone Sheep are less skittish than other upland breeds and they become used to humans and being handled by humans very quickly. They train to the halter well and are an excellent breed for showing. Derbyshire Gritstone Sheep will typically ignore dogs, unless they have lambs with them. They also get used to humans very readily and are not particularly nervous in the presence of people. This makes them a good choice for sites that have public access.

As a domestic animal, the Whitefaced Woodland Sheep's intelligence and calm nature makes it an excellent pet or for use for small-scale rearing, particularly if they have been bottle-fed. But they are flock animals, so you need to keep several together for their sense of security.

Housing / diet:
Being a hardy hill breed, Derbyshire Gritstone Sheep can be kept outside all year round and as long as they have sufficient fodder they will thrive even in the harshest weathers (they are frequently snow-bound in their home regions). Under lowland management sheep are often brought indoors over winter. This partly protects pastureland, improving spring growth, but it is also done to reduce stress on the sheep which are often heavily pregnant to give spring lambs during the coldest of the winters. If you are overwintering sheep indoors they need plenty of fodder and water, dry bedding (typically straw or dry bracken) an they need lots of ventilation. Air must be allowed to move freely in any housing suitable for sheep, as moisture and poor air conditions lead to the sheep’s poor health (respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia are not uncommon).

The lambs start with their mothers' milk and like most sheep breeds they absolutely must have the first milk or colostrum for the protective antibodies it contains. On the hills the sheep will be out all the time, even through winter and lambing though the diet may be supplemented with mineral licks, hay or silage and commercial feed. Under lowland management, where the labs are born earlier the sheep may be brought indoors over winter and will be brought indoors subsequent to lambing. After lambing they are turned out and their feed is supplemented with mineral licks, molasses and commercial feed. Like many hill sheep, the lambs will naturally begin to eat grass at about six weeks. Derbyshire Gritstone Sheep are hardy and can thrive on even the meanest pasture. They put on weight well with very poor grazing and weight gain rates increase as pasture quality improves.

Written by Dyfed Lloyd Evans

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