Whitefaced Woodlands produce a finer fleece than most hill breeds; this is attributed to the addition of Merino blood in the eighteenth century. It has a staple length of 10-20cm with a Bradford Count of 50 – 54 and an average fleece weight of 2-3kg. The fleece both spins up and felts well.
The Whitefaced Woodland is one of the largest British breeds of hill sheep in which both the ewes and rams have horns. The mature ewes weigh 60kg (135lbs) but may reach 72½ kg (160lbs) with good grazing. Rams average 130kg.
The Whitefaced Woodland is a very hardy and thrifty breed which copes well with sparse conditions and relatively tolerant of unproductive vegetation and so make good conservation grazing animals. However the popularity of the breed declined with the introduction of black-faced sheep which were better suited to the cold, wet conditions of the Pennines and the changes in farming systems.
The breed originates from the South Pennines in England, having the alternative name of Penistone after the Yorkshire town where sheep sales have been held since 1699 and is thought to be related to the Swaledale and Lonk breeds of sheep.
The Whitefaced Woodland is now on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Watchlist listed as a Category 3 (vulnerable) with less than 900 registered breeding ewes in the United Kingdom.
A group was set up in 1986 to raise awareness of the positive attributes of the breed and in 2004 this became the Whitefaced Woodland Sheep Society, with the aim of “preserving and promoting Whitefaced Woodland sheep as a distinctive and economically viable breed”.
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