Just 35 years ago Lleyn sheep were on the verge of disappearing completely. Over the last 15 years, however, they have become the fastest growing population of sheep in the country - venturing far beyond their native Wales to settle all across the United Kingdom , from Scotland to the south of England .
Here in the north of England , one of the farmers involved in the successful spread of the Lleyn breed is David Knowles. David, who farms with his father Peter at New Hutton near Kendal, is secretary of the Scottish and Borders Lleyn Breeders Club and was previously its chairman. He is also a member of the national committee of the breed society and he is responsible for producing the Lleyn web site www.lleynsheep.com . Clearly, he is a staunch proponent of the breed and one who has played his part in its phenomenal success over the last decade and a half.
The family farms 320 acres of wholly owned land at Cragg Farm, New Hutton, Kendal, Cumbria. All the land is within the less favoured area and it is all farmed within the Lake District Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme. It rises in height from 700 to 1,000 feet above sea level. The family has dairy and store cattle, but the most notable residents of Cragg Farm are the 420 pedigree Lleyn sheep.
The Lleyn was introduced to Cragg Farm in the early 90s. Until then, Peter and David Knowles had horned Kendal Rough Fell sheep. "The lambs from them were OK," said David, " but they were not producing a quality lamb”
"We had seen some Lleyns and we liked the look of them. So we bought some ewes and tupped them with a Charollais for a couple of years. We then decided to start breeding our own replacements as we wanted to keep a closed flock and improve our flock's health status. The flock is now wholly pedigree," added David.
The Lleyns are MV Accredited and in the NSP scheme. The farm is
FABBL farm assured and the Knowles family produces genuine breeding stock. David says the stock has usually done well for its new owners .
He said the Lleyn offered farmers a number of advantages, it is a prolific, milky and they are great mothers. They also offer sheep farmers the opportunity to keep a closed flock & produce some top quality lambs, as the Lleyn seems to click with any of the terminal sires. Lleyn crossed lambs are sought after as they produce lambs of 3RL classification and better, “we are regularly getting U grades with pure Lleyn wether lambs so with a crossed lamb you will hit the top grade” added David
"The Lleyn is a medium sized ewe” said David. "They are not hungry sheep, and wont eat you out of house and home, you can stock them harder" he said.. "They are a very honest sheep; most people who try them are back for more next year."
The pedigree flock will continue to be the main part of the sheep operation at Cragg Farm, although the Peter & David see a great future for cross-breeding. The family recently bought a Texel ram and will have their first crop of crossbred lambs from him next spring. David says there is good demand for Lleyn crossbreds. "The Texel will produce a good female cross as well as a top quality prime lambs”.
The Lleyn, it seems, continues to go from strength to strength. David and Peter Knowles believe that demand for both pedigree and crossbred sheep will remain buoyant for the foreseeable future.