The Ryeland breed of sheep is one of the oldest in Britain, originating around Hereford. The breed is governed by the Ryeland Flock Book Society. Constitutional changes made in 2010 gave Coloured Ryelands the same status as white Ryelands and their own Flock Book.
Although once a thriving and popular breed, its popularity declined after the Second World War. By 1974, only 980 breeding ewes remained, causing it to be listed as “rare” by the newly formed Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Since then, numbers have risen sufficiently for the breed to be reclassified as a native breed rather than a rare breed.
Although the number of flocks has risen significantly, the average flock size is much smaller than previously, indicating the Ryeland’s popularity as a smallholder’s or “hobby” sheep.
Ryelands are popular with smallholders and new sheep-keepers because they
- are small sheep, docile and easy to handle.
- will produce a prime butcher’s lamb off grass. Lambs will finish at around 45kg liveweight at around six months of age.
- produce a top quality fleece, ideal for hand spinning and craftwork. An average fleece will weigh around 2.25 – 3kg, with a staple length of 8-10cm and a Bradford Count of 56 – 58.
- are adaptable to a range of conditions and suited to organic systems.
Coloured Ryelands became more popular in the 1980s. Although the wool from white animals has always been more valuable for sale, coloured fleece is popular with hand spinners and craft workers and comes in a range of colours from pale cream / grey to dark chocolate brown.
Since 2010, Coloured Ryelands have had their own flock book; all coloured sheep are registered there plus any sheep with a coloured parent, even if the sheep itself has a white fleece.