All about Manx Loaghtan sheep
History of Manx Loaghtan Sheep
The origins of these primitive sheep are not fully understood but their ancestors are thought to go back to the Iron Age. They share many characteristics with other primitive sheep and are part of the Northern Short Tail group of sheep. These related primitive sheep were spread round Scandinavia, Iceland, the Scottish Islands and the Isle of Man by the Vikings.
The Manx Loaghtan is still one of the rarest of breeds in the British Isles and since 1973 the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has helped promote these wonderful sheep. Up to the 18th century these sheep covered the Manx hills in their thousands. Gradually they were replaced by modern sheep that mature quicker and are heavier. In the last 120 years the Manx Loaghtan came close to extinction 3 times and was only saved by the dedication and foresight of a few people. In the 1950s numbers were down to less than a 100. Happily today there are several thousands and their future seems much brighter as people have come again to appreciate the wool which is naturally a dark tan colour, soft, light yet very warm and the wonderful meat which is naturally low in fat and cholesterol.
The History of the Ballacosnahan — Hillcrest Flock
Ballacosnahan Farm is a 200 acre farm stretching from the top of Slieau Whallian down to the river Neb and has been in my family for over fifty years. It faces west and on a clear day you can see Northern Ireland, the Mountains of Mourne and the Mull of Galloway
I moved back to the Isle of Man to Hillcrest a cottage overlooking the sea with 5 acres of fields. My good friends George and Diana gave me 6 ewe lambs , as “you need something to mow the grass”. I had no idea then that I would become completely hooked on these sheep and end up in 9 years time with a flock of 200 hundred and growing
Today my partner and I farm together and plan to increase the flock to 800. I still know most of my sheep individually and pride myself that my sheep have the highest level of husbandry and care. Although I am not registered as organic I do farm in an organic way.
Characteristics of Manx Loaghtans
The Manx Loaghtan is a small sheep, with mature ewes weighing about 40kg, they are agile, multi-horned having 2, 4 and occasionally 6 horns. The rams have prominent horns giving a unique and impressive appearance.
They are slow maturing taking about 18 months before they are ready to breed or sell. It is precisely because they are slow maturing that their meat is so delicious. We carefully manage the pastures to encourage other native plants and herbs which add to the flavour of the meat.
They usually lamb without any help and are not prone to many of the conditions affecting modern sheep. The lambs are long legged, small and almost black at birth but soon turn a dark chocolate brown that over the next 6-8 months will become the same lighter colour of the adults.
There are several spellings for Loaghtan in old literature and commonly used in the UK was Loghtan although in the UK there is now a move to call them by the proper Manx name, Loaghtan.
Manx Loaghtan Fleece
The sheep are a lovely toffee or tan colour and the word Loaghtan is thought to have derived from two Manx words describing the colour — Lugh (mouse) and Dhoan (brown). The fleece next to the skin is a dark tan or brown but the top bleaches in the sun.
The wool is much sought after as the fleeces are soft, close textured and lustrous, heavily oiled and excellent for hand spinning. The staple varies between 70mm to 100mm. When spun is naturally a dark to light toffee colour. Once knitted it is fine enough to be comfortably worn next to the skin yet robust enough to be used in outerwear.