The Portland sheep grow a close and fine fleece of 2-3kg with a short staple at 6-9cm and a Bradford Count of 50 – 56. At birth the wool is often foxy-red. This changes to white within the first few months, but red or fawn patches may persist until maturity and red, kempy fibres may be found.


Originating in South-West England, the sheep were kept on an island and preserved from many of the influences of sheep on the mainland. The island is barren with a thin soil incapable of providing rich grazing for animals ensuring that the breed remained small, hardy and agile. Tithes were paid with wool and cheese from sheep’s milk, for which there was a trade with the mainland. The Doomsday Book records that in 1299 there were 900 sheep on Portland. Despite the lack of a bridge stock was sold to people from the mainland and conveyed across Smallmouth in a ferry. The number of sheep grew until there were four flocks of a thousand sheep each in 1840. After 1847 the building of a breakwater around Portland harbour by penal labour meant the purchase of vast areas of farming and common land. Sheep numbers declined until the last Portlands left the island in 1920 to be sold in Dorchester where the auctioneer had difficulty in even getting a bid.


The Portland is a small thrifty sheep with ewes weighing typically 38-40kg and rams 55kg. They are probably the most typical present day representative of the old tan-faced sheep that once was the dominant breed in Great Britain.

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Fleece Statistics
Unit Value
Bradford Count 50-56
Micron Range 31-35
Staple Length 6-9cm
Fleece Weight 2-3kg

The breed had almost become extinct, and it was due to the efforts of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust that the remaining animals were traced and recorded in 1974 as a total of 86 ewes and three major bloodlines. Portlands were re-introduced on the island in 1977 and the Portland Sheep Breeders Group was established in 1993 with over 100 members. Portland sheep are now in the Rare Breeds Survival Trust category 4 – “at risk,” meaning their numbers have risen to over 900 (but less than 1500) registered breeding females.

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53_1920x760-Portland Acabashi Wikimedia
Amanda Selter Flickr
53_240x420-Portland Sue Garrett Portland Sheep Breeders Group
53_1920x1000-Portland Sue Garrett Portland Sheep Breeders Group

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