What makes your product special? They are direct descendants of the ancient North European short tailed sheep that came to Scotland 8 thousand years ago. Small, hardy and lively ewes rarely weighing more than 40kg
Who cares about it? Crofters (owners/tenants of small subsistence farms in the highlands & isles) who are interested in conserving heritage regional breeds and appreciate their special characteristics.
Who still uses/eats it? Eaten on the archipelago of the Hebrides with a few cooks and chefs seeking it out by mail order on the mainland.
Is it hard to find? Why? Many are cross bred nowadays and owing to the scarcity of local abbatoirs and a general lack of appreciation and marketing support, many Hebridean Sheep go to market sold by weight. This means no differentiation by breed and so the system perpetuates low market prices and little opportunity for the consumer to purchase a specific breed.
What factors make it at risk of being forgotten and/or extinction? Their dainty frame means small cuts and many farmers favour modern breeds with larger cuts and greater weight as that is demanded at auction. It is also the case that if lamb is seen as a commodity then their only asset is weight. Those who rear Hebridean and other rare breeds recognise the value in flavour, wool, sustainability, their wonderful characters and lively nature, not size.
What does it taste like? Lamb, Hogget and Mutton from Hebridean Sheep have a deliciously gamey flavour and are remarkably lean compared with commercial cross-bred lamb, due to the breed and the feed, ‘hefted’ on the hills and machair. This means they live their life outside in the natural wild and challenging landscape.
Where does it come from? As the name suggests it is an indigenous sheep from the Outer and Inner Hebrides although can thrive in most of the Highlands on rugged landscape. It neither appreciates nor needs valuable arable land, bred to withstand harsh elements and frugal grazing, they are very inexpensive to rear and ideal for crofting.
What makes it distinctive? Their dark coats (that grey with age) are valued by artisan weavers and knitters; their meat very flavoursome. The horns would be used for drinking horns in olden days. Both males and females can have 2 or 4 horns. The ewes are very good mothers and are very resilient in all weathers.
How is it grown, raised, or produced? Winter grazing and lambing is on the ‘in-bye’ land, sheltered by the ‘blackhouse’ or island home, crofters also have rights to common grazings in crofting communities and can take their sheep out onto the moors or machair thus allowing them to manage a flock sufficient in number to support their family.
Most blackhouses have been superceded by modern homes with more light and cheaper building materials but some are restored/modernised, retaining traditional building skills.