Cheviot ram (Photo courtesy Cheviot Sheep Society of NZ)
A Minority Breed of British Origin
Cheviot sheep are a very old breed that originated in the Cheviot Hills on the border between England and Scotland. Originally called ‘Long sheep’ (a name used since at least 1470) or ‘White sheep’ (in contrast to the Scottish Blackface), Cheviots were a mountain breed of extreme hardiness, which would produce meat and wool on cold, wet, hilly country. It was these characteristics that led Sir John Sinclair to select the breed to be taken to the North of Scotland in the late 1700s to replace the original sheep of the area. It was there that Sir John who bestowed on them the name Cheviot.
The original breed was quite extensively developed to produce the Cheviot as we know it today, an alert, compact animal with a distinctive Roman-nose, bare face, prick ears and bulky fleece. (In the north of, Scotland, the Cheviot was developed into a larger animal which is now recognized as a separate breed called the Northern Cheviot, or ‘Northie’ but these have never been brought to New Zealand.)
The British Cheviot Sheep Society was formed in February 1891 but Cheviots had reached New Zealand almost fifty years earlier in 1845 – one of the first British breeds to arrive in this country. In time, some large flocks were established but the breed suffered from competition with the bigger English breeds on good farming country. Ironically, its greatest competition on the hill country, to which it was so well-suited, came from the Perendale, which was purpose-developed in New Zealand from the Romney and the Cheviot itself.
Today the Cheviot is very much a minority breed in New Zealand mostly farmed as flock sheep to produce rams, for use as terminal sires or to breed cross-bred ewes. However, a small but active breed society exists maintaining registered flocks; twenty-four flocks comprising just over two thousand purebred ewes were recorded in 2003.
The Rare Breeds Website compilers acknowledge with thanks the assistance of Judith Pascoe of the Cheviot Sheep Society of New Zealand.
Cheviot ewe with twins (Photo courtesy Cheviot Sheep Society of NZ)