Monastery records show that monks in the Twelfth Century raised sheep
that are the progenitors of the modern Scottish Blackface breed. The monks used the wool of the dun-faced sheep, as they were often called, for their
own clothing and exported large amounts to Europe. Later records show, in 1503, James the IV of Scotland established a flock of 5,000 Scottish Blackface
in Ettrick Forest.
Today the Blackface is numerically, and probably economically, one of
the most important in the United Kingdom. In 1989 their wool accounted for nearly 40% of the total wool production of Scotland and one twelfth the
wool production of the United Kingdom. The fleece that the Scottish Blackface has today is the result of selective breeding since medieval times from
a short coarse wooled ancestor. The fleece of the modern Scottish Blackface weighs from 1.75 to 3 kg with a staple length of 15 to 30 cm.
Blackface ewes are excellent mothers and will defend their offspring
against any perceived threat. They are good milkers and are able to yield a lamb crop and a wool clip even when on marginal pastures. The breed spread
from the border areas during the 19th Century to the highlands and the islands and also to Northern Ireland and the US. There are small flocks scattered
across the USA but this robust breed has remained a minor breed.
The Scottish Blackface are excellent on brushy hillsides and can be useful
for improving pastures. They are very adept at regaining condition after lambing or a hard winter. In the world of meat production the Blackface plays
two distinct roles in the UK. Firstly they produce lambs on the hills; latter they are brought down to the lower country and are crossed with Border
Blackface lambs yield a carcass ideal for the modern consumer. The meat
is free of superfluous fat and waste and is known the world over for its distinct flavor. Although they are not large sheep they have enormous potential
for the production in the US of high quality lean lamb for today's health conscious consumer.
Blackface wool is used in the production of fine carpets. It has exceptionally
hardwearing qualities combined with a natural springiness which enables it the
pile of the carpet to resist tread marks and to regain its upright position even
after the prolonged pressure of heavy furniture. Many of the best Axminster and
Wilton Carpets are made from this wool. Some grades of Scottish Blackface wool
are used in the manufacture of Scottish and Irish tweeds. Other grades are exported
in considerable quantities to Italy where the wool is greatly prized for filling
mattresses. Artisans have long treasured the horns of the Blackface for the carving
of shepherds crooks and walking sticks. In the US the fleeces are becoming of
interest to fiber artists and hand spinners for use in tapestry and the making
of rugs and saddle blankets.
since March 1 , 2004