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

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

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

Pic­ture: Liz Tins­ley

Laven­der ewes Amy and Sylvie.

Pic­ture: Gil­lian Dixon

Laven­der lambs.

Pic­ture: Gil­lian Dixon

Laven­der lamb fleece.

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