The breed is quiet and easily managed. Lambing percentages are usually between 150-170%. Ewes remain prolific and productive for up to 7 crops and hold their teeth well. Rams are fertile over a long working life (6 – 7 years).
The Devon Closewool is primarily a grassland sheep and is very hardy, having a docile temperament. This makes the Closewool an ideal sheep for the first time flockmaster, or the commercial farmer looking for an easy care, low input sheep.
- The breed arose around the mid-1800s when Exmoor Horn sheep were crossed with Devon Longwools - the resultant intermediate-sized sheep proved very popular and expanded rapidly in numbers.
- By 1950 there were around 229,000, almost all of them located in Devon, making them the most numerous breed in the county at that time.
- The Devon Closewool Sheep Breeders Society was formed in 1923, but this breed of sheep has been in existence for well over 100 years, the original home being Exmoor and its borders, but now the breed is much more widespread.
- A small flock is recorded as having been exported to Canada in 1947, and the breed has also been exported to New Zealand.
- A medium sized white faced sheep without horns, and a good fleece of wool, it has a good bone, standing on stout legs set apart giving it a very symmetrical appearance.
- Ewes weigh around 60-62kg and rams, 100kg.
- The nostrils are black, the ears short being covered with fine white hair.
- The neck is short and thick well set into the shoulders, the ribs are well sprung with good depth.
- The back is well set up, is big and wide, and the leg of mutton is well let down.
The Closewool ewe mated to a Blue Faced Leicester ram produces an exceptional halfbred ewe. She has many advantages over the other “Mules”. Her size, superior fleshing, abundance of milk, heightened mothering ability and, above all, her ability to produce and fatten twins off permanent grassland, even up to 1100 feet above sea level, make her the ideal hybrid ewe. The Mule crossed with a terminal breed will out perform others with the added benefit of a docile, cheaper to keep ewe. Producers report consistent 1.8 – 2 lambs sold per ewe put to ram in lowland flocks.
Purebred producers achieve 18 – 21kg dcw in 12 – 16 weeks on a forage diet. Hill farmers (900 – 1200 feet above sea level) produce lambs of similar weight in 20 – 24 weeks.
The fleece of rams weighs 6kgs, ewes 4kgs with a micron count of 48-53. Dense, medium length, strong staple which does not part easily so the skin stays dry. This enables the sheep to thrive in wet, cold conditions.
Did you know?
Although numbers of Devon Closewools aren't as low as some other breeds, they are threatened due to their geographical concentration. Most of the breed is concentrated on Exmoor. In 2015, RBST helped establish a new flock in Suffolk to help reduce this threat.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is the leading national charity working to conserve and protect the United Kingdom's rare native breeds of farm animals from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants and donations from the public to raise the £700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare UK native breeds of farm animals. Visit www.rbst.org.uk to see how you can help.