The new British Lavender
As she continues her series, Jack Smellie discovers an exciting new breed being pioneered by Liz Tinsley and a dedicated group of sheep and genetic enthusiasts
The Lavender gene
Many years ago Liz Tinsley bought a Jacob x Poll Dorset ram to use on her mixed ewes. Unbeknown to her, he carried the rare ‘lavender’ gene where every now and then a lavender and white lamb is born rather than the traditional black and white of the pure Jacob. One of the resulting lambs out of this ram was both hornless and lavender coloured. This set her thinking, and she decided that she would like to work with this naturally polled, lavender sheep and try to fix the traits she saw as desirable.
In her words: “I wanted to create a polled breed suitable for smallholdings and pet paddocks, one that was easy to handle and with a constitution able to cope in situations where grazing may be restricted.
Appearance-wise I was looking at an even, soft, grey coloured fleece, white on the head with white socks and a tail tip (classic HST – head, socks and tail markings). My priorities were that the sheep was sound, healthy, fit for purpose and quiet, not so large as to make handling difficult, not so small that the carcass is unsuitable for sale (around 50-60kg mature ewe weight). I also wanted a good/excellent fleece quality (for spinning and skins), where the unusual colour was even along the fibre and even along the body.” In addition Liz wanted to add the ability to lamb out of season.
Her project is now in its third decade and in recent years she has been joined by a small but dedicated group of sheep enthusiasts up and down the country, coordinated by Gillian of Farmer Dixon at South Yeo Farm East in Devon. Currently there are about 50 ‘pure’ Lavender ewes in the UK and, while not yet recognised as a breed in its own right, the British Lavender sheep is becoming more recognised and well thought of. It is now listed in the British Coloured Sheep Breeders Association’s Annual Directory. In 2016 the breed was profiled on Countryfile’s Autumn Colour Special which led to a huge demand for their fleeces by craftspeople and now fleeces are often reserved even before lambing has begun.
Creating a new breed
So how do you begin to create a new breed? First and foremost you need a solid
Lavender ewes Amy and Sylvie.
Lavender lamb fleece.