Oxford Down

Oxford Down - Simon Tupper

Key Characteristics

The Oxford Down has been successfully used throughout Northern Europe and is a generally hardy breed capable of surviving in most conditions. The breed is easily bucket trained and won’t jump fences. Firm handling is required as the breed is so large. Lambing percentages are generally around 150-160%. Lambs are large but there are few lambing problems. Lambs have a good wool covering at birth and do not suffer from the cold.

History

  • The development of the Oxford Down began in the 1830s from crossbreeding Southdown and Hampshire Down ewes with Cotswold rams.
  • Many of the early flocks were based around Witney hence the name Oxford Down and in 1889 the Oxford Down Sheep Breeders’ Association and the first flock book published.
  • The breed became immensely popular and was widely exported throughout Europe and North America.
  • In the latter half of the 20th century the breed’s popularity declined as farmers focused on producing smaller joints.
  • As with the other Down breeds the Oxford Down was overtaken by the Suffolk and imported breeds such as the Texel.
  • These days the breed enjoys a good reputation and farmers are beginning to realise the potential an Oxford Down ram has.

Appearance

  • A huge, powerfully built sheep with the typical good conformation and sturdiness of a Down breed.
  • Ewes weigh around 90kg and rams, 120-140kg.
  • The breed has a thick covering of wool and has a woolly topknot.
  • The face is woolless and a very dark brown.
  • Legs are dark with a wool covering.
  • Both sexes are polled.

Uses

Cross Breeding

The Oxford Down is a breed capable of producing fast growing, well conformed lambs from most ewe breeds. Trials on the Oxford Down in comparison with other breeds have found that Oxford sired lambs can be taken to heavy weights (24-26kg deadweight) and on to hogget age without becoming overfat. Crossbred lambs can reach slaughter weight at 12 weeks and R3L grades are common. Some breeders are now performance recording to make the rams more attractive to commercial buyers.

Meat

An Oxford Down lamb will reach about 22.4kg at 8 weeks old and 18-22kg deadweight at 3-4months. The meat is well marbled, very much enhancing the tenderness and flavour.

Wool

Staple length- 10-15cm. Fleece weight- 3- 4kg. Quality 50s-54s

Did you know?

At it's heyday, in the first half of the 20th century, upwards of 1000 rams were penned annually at the Kelso Ram Sales in the Scottish Borders.

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