The rare Badger Face Torwen, a Welsh Mountain Sheep breed whose numbers have declined nearly 30% since 2013, has been added to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s Watchlist. The RBST Watchlist indexes the UK’s rarest native livestock and equine breeds, and the Torwen’s addition to the Watchlist in February 2021 means the breed will now benefit from focused RBST support to help the breed’s revival.


RBST is the national charity working to safeguard the future of native livestock and equine breeds which have become rare. It will work in partnership with the Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society to increase Torwen breeding numbers, prevent inbreeding, and safeguard the breed’s future.


Torwen sheep have a black face with white facial markings, and a black fleece with a white belly (Torwen means ‘white belly’). Their legs are tan with a black stripe, the underside of their tail is white and the rams have dark spiralled horns. Their markings are the reverse of the Badger Face Torddu breed. The Badger Face Sheep’s historic name Defaid Idloes suggests links to a 7th Century figure, Saint Idloes of Mid Wales. The majority of today’s Torwen flocks are still found in Wales, but flocks have also been established in England and a small number in Scotland.


RBST Chief Executive Christopher Price said: “The distinctive markings of Torddu and Torwen Badger Face Sheep have been a feature of the Welsh Mountains for centuries but with numbers dwindling, action is needed to prevent Torwens from disappearing. Not only are these sheep an irreplaceable part of our national heritage but, as hardy native breeds that produce delicious meat, both the Badger Face Sheep breeds should play an important role in Government’s post-Brexit vision of a sustainable future for farming that works in harmony with the natural environment.”


Brian Eagles MRCVS, Past Chairman of the Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society, has kept Torwens for more than 20 years. He said: “Torwens are very useful on farms and smallholdings alike thanks to their hardy nature, medium size and excellent mothering. They are good for crossing, popular in meat boxes and ideal for conservation grazing work, but they are not as well-known as their Torddu cousins. I’m thrilled that their addition to the RBST Watchlist will encourage more smallholders and farmers to keep them and will enable more promotion of the breed at agricultural shows through new Torwen classes, or through Torwen’s being included in the rare breed classes. Working with the RBST on focused conservation programmes will give this fantastic breed a better chance of survival long into the future.”


Just 491 Badger Face Torwen breeding females were registered in 2019, down from 681 in 2013.


Torwen and Torddu have previously been categorised as one breed but the Badger Face Mountain Sheep Society has traced evidence that shows the two breeds have long been bred separately, with a genetic history and inherited characteristics that clearly distinguish the two breeds. With breeding numbers having increased significantly, the Torddu is no longer categorised as rare but the Torwen is lower in number. Crosses between the Torwen and the Torddu are called a Wendu and they are not considered to represent either breed.