Key Characteristics

Portlands are a hardy, thrifty breed used to surviving on sparse grazing. The Portland can be bucket trained and is well suited to life on a smallholding. The breed is small so easy to handle but does take some catching. They are known as a one lamb sheep and it unusual for the breed to have twins. Lambs are small and lively and there are few lambing problems. The breed is reputed to be able to lamb all year around. 

  • A small breed, the body is of a primitive type within the Down Group of breeds with good width between the legs, although not a primitive breed.
  • Ewes weigh around 35-40kg and rams, around 55kg.
  • Lambs are born a russet red colour. This fades as the sheep age but the face and legs are a distinctive tan colour whilst the fleece is a cream colour.
  • Ewes and rams are horned, rams with heavy spiralled horns.


  • The Portland is a typical representative of the old tan-faced sheep that was found throughout the south west before the Roman invasion.
  • The sheep were originally bred on the Isle of Portland and whilst the rest of the U.K. was experimenting with breed development the sheep of Portland remained isolated.
  • By the early 20th century the Portland was under pressure from other breeds and in 1920 the last Portland sheep left the island.
  • The breed became very rare although there were always Portlands at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, where a flock had been established in 1770.
  • The sheep’s small size and distinctive look have earned the breed many devoted admirers.
  • Recently Portlands have been re-introduced on to the Isle of Portland.


The Portland will eat rough grasses and does browse on shrubs so is a good choice for certain conservation grazing situations.

The Portland is usually taken to hogget and mutton age as the lambs lack size. The meat is known for its flavour- George III was a fan of the mutton, and direct marketing would be a good choice.

The wool staple length is between 6-9cm, with a fleece weight of 2-3kg and a quality of 50s-60s.

Did you know?

The Doomsday Book records that in 1086 there were nine hundred sheep on Portland island.

Breed Societies

See here for the Combined Flock Book

For more information about the breed visit the Portland Sheep Breeder Group