Greyface Dartmoor Breed History
Also known as the Improved Dartmoor, this sheep is a native of the West Country, in particular Devon. It is descended from local breeds which grazed the low ground around Dartmoor. It is also widely accepted that the breed is a descendant of the native Heath Sheep (Cornish Sheep) of the 17th century which, in turn, is known to be linked to the Bronze Age Soay type.
Greyface Dartmoor sheep are a slow maturing breed taking some 3 years to reach maturity. They have immense strength of constitution developed through withstanding the severe winters and exposed conditions which exist around the Moor. This breed was known for its ability to survive and reproduce in adverse weather conditions and was the best suited breed to utilise hill and mountain grazing.
Improvements were carried out during the 19th century using the local Longwools (Notts) and the Leicester.
In 1909, the Greyface Dartmoor Breeders Association was formed in order to promote and develop the breed. All ewes are marked by studding, ear tags, bearing (in the case of the ewes) the owner's flock number, preceded by the letters DM and the year of birth and in the case of rams the letters DM with the registered number allotted by the Association. A flock book containing the registrations and other information connected with the breed is published annually. An annual inspection of all lambs take place to ensure that only true-to-type and fully representational animals of the breed are accepted into the Flock Book.
The Greface Dartmoor breed was badly affected in the UK 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic and is currently at Category 4 on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust's list of endangered breeds.
Bred predominantly for wool, the Greyface Dartmoor produces a heavy, versatile fleece well suited for use in blankets, carpet, serge, cloth and other hard-wearing woollen products.
The Dartmoor fleece is classified as Lustre Long wool. A medium sized sheep (approx. 60kg) is hornless, deep bodied, short legged, with well woolled head and legs. The white face should be mottled or spotted with black or grey with matching feet. The short straight legs are well covered with wool. A clip of 7-9kg can be expected with a higher yield (up to 15kg) from mature rams.
The wool is not coloured. Staple length 25-30cms with a Bradford count of 36-40.
The Greyface Dartmoor eats less and produces more wool than any other sheep for its body weigh. It is the only medium-sized luster wool sheep in the British Isles.
The British Wool Marketing Board classify the lustre wool into 3 grades:
- 545 - Devon / Dartmoor No1
- 548 - Devon / Dartmoor Cotts
- 549 - Devon Dartmoor No2
In 2017 to 2018 financial year the Welsh office of the British Wool Marketing Board handled 3,248kgs of wool in the above categories.
As with many traditional breeds, Greyface Dartmoors produce excellent meat in addition to their wool. Although they are small at birth, they grow rapidly, so can reach a saleable dead-weight early. However, Greyface Dartmoor lambs can also be kept on longer, to reach a much larger size for slaughter as hogget or even mutton as they tend to remain lean.
All sheep require ear tags. DEFRA (Department for Environmnet Food and Rural Affairs) guidelines require all sheep over 6 months old, if housed overnight, or 9 months old if not housed overnight, to have an identification tag in both ears. The tags are labelled with a 14 character long label this is made up of UK0, followed by 6 digits of the the unique flock mark and the final 5 digits are the animals individual identification number, for example Garreg Fach sheep will have a number such as: UK071533700001.
In the left ear they have a yellow Electronic IDentifier (EID) ear tag, unless it is a replacement tag where it may be red.
In the right ear there is a repeat of the information as shown on the left ear tag and this may be in any colour but is generally based on the age of the sheep, so from 2015 to 2023 it will usually be sky blue.
For pedigree Greyface Dartmoor Sheep there is an additional tag necessary, this is usually in the right ear.
For ewes, all registered Greyface Dartmoor sheep were up until 2017 issued with a small metal tag to denote the year of birth on one side and the Dartmoor Sheep Breeder Association (DSBA) flock number and the individual number of the female sheep on the other side, in 2018 this changed to a plastic tag that shows the flock number.
For the rams that have passed inspection, they will have the same metal sheep tag but with just a 4 digit number printed on it and nothing else. If the sheep you are looking at do not have this then there is a very high chance they are not registered with the Association and cannot be registered retrospectively with the DSBA.
If a ewe or a ram does not have a metal tag such as this then it is not entered into the flock book and there is no upgrade scheme for any sheep in place. If you want to ensure you purchase a pedigree animal that is entered into the flock book and is eligible to produce offspring that can also be entered into the flock book then please make sure the ewe or ram has an official Dartmoor Sheep Breeders Association tag.
The Garreg Fach Flock is part of a carefully controlled breeding program. We are passionate about breeding the very best.
The ewes are good milkers, capable of rearing twins. A lambing of about 140% can be expected with the heavy milking docile ewes rearing them quickly. Some clipping around the udder may be required to ensure easy access for the newly born lambs.
Traditionally lambs are shorn before the last day of July.