February 13, 2020 5 min read

Welsh Sheep

Last Updated 29th February 2020

 

Introduction

Wales has the largest number of sheep per person in the United Kingdom, it has its own indigenous breeds of sheep and its own sheep dog breed. Sheep farming is a key part of the agricultural economy in Wales.

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Welsh Sheep Farming

On any visit to Wales you will see sheep in most parts of the country. Recent figures state that there are are over 10 million welsh sheep compared to 3 million people, an approximate 3 to 1 ratio (3 sheep for every 1 person in Wales). As with all averages it can be misleading! In some parts of Wales, this ratio is as high as 20 sheep per person in rural mid, north and west Wales. Cattle farming is also key to Welsh farming but as a comparison, there are approximately 1 million cows in Wales compared to the 10 million sheep!

In case you’re wondering how this compares to other countries in the UK or the world, Scotland slightly more sheep than the general population (an approximate ratio of 1 to 1) and England has about 1 sheep for every two people, not surprisingly making Wales the country in the UK with the most sheep per person. However, for a world comparison, New Zealand has over 6 sheep for every person in that country.

Despite having only about 5% of the total UK population, Wales has nearly 33% of all UK sheep. Sheep farming in Wales represents for some 80% of all agriculture in Wales.

What is Sheep in Welsh?

A common question regarding sheep is, what is sheep in Welsh? Whilst in Englash sheep is the word for one and lots of sheep, in Welsh there are two words!  Dafad is the word for a single sheep, whereas defaid is for lots of sheep. Hwrdd is the word for a ram, a male sheep and oen for a lamb.

Welsh Sheep Idioms

The English phrase about black sheep of the family also exists in Welsh as "Y mae dafad ddu ym mhob praidd". Literally it means every there is a black sheep in every flock! 

Welsh Sheep Breeds

A white coloured fleece is the dominant colour of most sheep fleeces whereas black sheep range between 5 and 15% of all sheep. The major native breeds of sheep in Wales are as follows:

  • Badger Face Welsh
  • Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep 
  • Beulah Speckled Face 
  • Black Welsh Mountain or Welsh Black
  • Brecknock Hill Cheviott
  • Kerry Hill
  • Llanwenog
  • Lleyn
  • Welsh Mountain

Also, worth a mention is the Welsh Mule sheep breed, a cross between Blue faced Leicester ram crossed with the Welsh Mountain, Beulah or Welsh Hill Speckled-face ewes. 

The Welsh Mountain sheep is one of the oldest sheep breeds in the world, with references to the breed found in literature of the Middle Ages. It is still as important today for modern agriculture as any other breed.

Black Welsh Mountain are an easy to manage small breed that graze well on rough upland and mountainous grazing. The wool is black, short, thick and firm to handle and it does not require dyeing. It is most suitable for making-up into cloth which is durable, light and warm. When used with good quality white wool it blends into attractive checks and patterns. When cured, the rich, deep-pile black fleeced skins are in demand as floor rugs and chair backs.

We have wool from Llanwenog, Lleyn, Welsh Mule and of course the iconic Welsh Mountain Black sheep breeds in our hand dyed yarn or blankest and throws. Welsh mountain sheep wool and fleeces are a core part of the FelinFach range of natural wool products.

Welsh Sheepdog Breed

Whenever you think of sheep in the fields and on the mountains of Wales, you also think of the Welsh sheepdog energetically running, chasing or corralling the sheep and other livestock.

The Welsh Sheepdog is a rare landrace (as opposed to a pedigree) and has been in one form or another for over 800 years. It is a separate breed from the more popular Scottish Border Collie. A Welsh Collie is not a Welsh sheepdog -  a Welsh Collie is a cross between a Welsh Sheepdog and a Border Collie.Welsh Sheepdogs have tremendous agility, stamina and courage and a good 20kgs sheepdog can cope with herding or driving 750kg cattle.

Welsh Sheepdogs are wonderfully responsive working dogs and it can be difficult to provide enough stimulation for them when kept as a pet. It suffers from some of the problems common to other herding breeds, but is generally very healthy, and has a life expectancy of 12–14 years.

 In in 1997 the Welsh Sheepdog Society was formed with a view to preserving and promoting the ancient Welsh Sheepdog breed. It is the aim of the Society to develop the purity of the strain. (More info on the Society)

Welsh Blankets, Welsh Tapestry Blankets, Hand Dyed Yarn

The weaving of Welsh Blankets and the Welsh woollen manufacturing industry in general was historically one of the most important industries in all parts of Wales. However it was in the Teifi valley in what is now Ceredigion and it's neighbouring counties of north Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire that the wool industry was at its most prolific during the latter parts of the 19th and 20th century. We support those remaining mills in Wales as part of growing the market demand for wool products.

Our Welsh tapestry Collection is named ‘Hiraeth’. We think that nothing says Hiraeth more than an iconic Welsh tapestry blanket. Hiraeth is a Welsh concept and a word that is somewhat difficult to describe in English. It isn't surprising therefore that  there is no single English word that expresses hiraeth. It is a longing for home, 'nostalgia', or, more commonly, 'homesickness'. Many Welsh people claim 'hiraeth' is a word which cannot be translated, meaning more than just "missing something" or "missing home."   

Our hand dyed yarn is 100% natural fibre, its renewable and biodegradeable. Our yarns are either Welsh or UK fleece and sourced from farms or smallholdings local to us in Pembrokeshire or the UK.

Campaign for Wool

Welsh wool and indeed all wool sources are important to our business and are consistent with our guiding principles of Natural, Traditional and Handmade. We have been an official supporter of the worldwide Campaign for Wool for many years and are listed on the Campaign's official supporter's web page. Wool comes a sustainable source and it meets international environmental agendas. The Campaign promotes these attributes both in the UK and around the world.

About FelinFach

Our company, FelinFach Natural Textiles is located in the heart of the Preseli area of Pembrokeshire near to Boncath. We design Welsh blankets, Welsh woollen blankets and throws which are traditionally woven at Welsh mills. We also design and make natural hand dyed yarn, cotton, silk and wool scarves and other handmade products. We are a proud supporter of the Campaign for Wool, Global Welsh and Wales International.

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Last Updated 29th February 2020



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