This is Calan, the first ram on the new croft!
He’s a Hebridean and has three ewes joining him in the hope of getting some lambs on the go and expanding the flock next year. FYI the Hebridean is a pretty primitive wee sheep, attributed to descend from the flocks of the Norse folk before being introduced to the highlands and islands of Scotland.
They are small sheep with striking black soft fleece with two or four horns. Until recently they were classified by the Rare Breed Society as an endangered breed. Fortunately, through the dedication of a small band of private breeders, this threat has now been lifted.
The breed thrived along the West Coast of Scotland where they enjoyed the freedom to roam highland, lowland and seaside at leisure. Originally their high butterfat content milk and fine fleeces resulted in them being kept by Highlanders as much for their milk and wool as for their meat. They were at one time common throughout Scotland until market forces found them to be too small and they were superseded by the Blackface and Cheviots.
I decided to keep them instead of the traditional white-fleeced breeds for a few reasons. Firstly they’ll be easier to keep for a time and cash-poor relative novice like me, they lamb easily and are very hardy. Their meat is a wholly different taste, much darker and gamier and I’m interested in producing niche products from the croft if I can. And I like the fact they are a native breed, they look pretty cool and I think it will be interesting to work with a breed I’ve never worked with before, I’m starting from scratch with them. There’s also some possibilities with the fleece and weaving but bit more research needed on that front.
The native Hebridean is a far smaller sheep than modern commercial breeds found in today’s supermarkets, taking around twelve months for lamb to reach maturity in comparison to modern commercial lamb such as the Texel and Suffolk which are far greater in size and ready for market in only six months. This allows Hebrideans to enjoy a full and natural life. Slower maturing lambs permit the meat’s flavour to fully develop in a way we now rarely have the opportunity to appreciate.
When butchered locally, weigh around 14kg – 19kg and are hung for 12 days to permit the meat to finalise its maturing before cutting is begun.The meat is unique with a rich dark hue, succulent tender texture, and a gamey – utterly delicious long forgotten flavour. The purity of the meat also offers important health advantages over modern commercial breeds of sheep – with the meat being very lean. Recent tests have shown that it has a significantly lower cholesterol level than most lamb.
“The meat from Hebridean sheep is unique. It has a rich, dark colour, succulent tender texture, and a gamey, utterly delicious flavour. Tasted against locally produced butchers’ lamb and some very good Welsh lamb, there was no contest: the Hebridean won hands down. It was tender with a really good bite, and rich but didn’t leave that greasy, fatty taste in the mouth. And it was so full of flavour that some of the young tasters couldn’t believe it really was lamb.”
Alex Barker: Guild of Food Writers..
So there we are, next up the chickens…
[Info via www.hebrideansheep.com]