Husbandry

Wensleydales are a rare breed, recognised as “at risk” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and like many of our rare and native breeds they have some unique breed characteristics that can be both charming as well as, occasionally, challenging. All breeds have good and bad traits, and Wensleydales are no exception! However we would like to offer some helpful pointers to any new breeders of Wensleydales on relevant husbandry practices that they may find useful, in order to get the most from one of the most stunning of our native breeds

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Wensleydales are a large, slow maturing breed of sheep, with ewes regularly weighing 100kg and rams 150kg (please see the breed standard page for more information on Wensleydale characteristics). As such, it is worth recognising that they do have a requirement for good quality forage and often some supplemental feeding in order to reach their full growth potential. As a Longwool breed, they also put a lot of energy into growing their fleece. Feeding does depend on various factors, such as land type on which they graze as well as whether they are young/growing stock, a fibre flock or carrying lambs. Many aged ewes and wethers that are kept purely for their wool, for example, may thrive quite happily on good quality grass and supplemental hay; whereas a young animal that is going through its first winter will likely require either a forage crop, hard feed ration or another source of protein and energy in order to reach their growth potential, while also producing a high quality fleece

A common truth of keeping Longwools is that they are susceptible to gut upset when the spring flush of grass comes through or if they are suffering a high parasite burden. Please do not despair if you go out one spring morning to mucky backsides, all is not lost and you are not alone! It is good practice to either use a hosepipe to gently wash the dirty wool at the rear end if you catch any scouring early, or to carefully trim the offending wool away (known as dagging). Some breeders regularly shear their flocks’ tails when the sheep are clean in order to prevent any buildup. Making sure your sheep have clean behinds is incredibly important – particularly with increasingly warm and wet summers – in order to prevent fly strike and protect the welfare of the sheep, as well as to help keep the fleece itself clean for shearing time. If you suspect a worm burden, it is also wise to take faecal egg samples and treat in accordance with veterinary or SCOPS (Sustainable Control of Parasites) advice if an issue is found. Additional Flystrike prevention such as Clik or Crovect can also be an excellent preventative measure to use alongside these management practices, however please follow guidelines and be careful not to use these too close to shearing time for the health of your shearer

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On the topic of trimming wool, it is also a good idea to keep a somewhat tidy topping on your Wensleydales in order to protect their eye health, and if nothing else, so that they can see where they’re going! If you do happen to lop their entire fringe off, don’t be alarmed as it will grow back, however a thinning of the topping is recommended. You can find notes on how to do this in the show preparation guide if you want more tips

Another consideration when keeping Longwools is ensuring that they are monitored regularly when grazing in any fields containing brambles or gorse. This is true of any sheep breed, but Wensleydales are particularly susceptible to getting ensnared in brambles etc., or having their wool snagged on hawthorn if allowed to walk inside/beneath a hedge. Ensuring you have good fencing and control of brambles will not only save damage to fleeces, but is also safer for your sheep. If these hazards can’t be controlled or fenced off, it’s advisable to keep the sheep in these fields either when recently sheared/their fleeces are short, or to ensure frequent checks in problem areas

A final recommendation is to trim some wool away from the ewes’ udders at lambing time to help lambs find the teat more easily. This is more hygienic for the lambs as it prevents them sucking on any dirty wool. As ewes age this becomes less of an issue, with the growth of wool slowing down, however shearlings can be rather woolly at the point of their first lambing!

We hope this guide is helpful, however if you need any more advice or support with your Wensleydales we are a friendly association with lots of helpful members, so please contact your Regional Representative or the Breed Secretary if you have specific questions

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