By the end of the nineteenth century, flocks of Hebridean Sheep had begun to appear in the parklands of large country estates both in Scotland and in England. The sheep in these flocks were uniformly black in colour. How they came to be on these estates and how and when black sheep had been selected from the original mixture of colours is uncertain. It is easy to understand how these attractive additions to the parkland in front of the large country house might have been coveted (and subsequently bought) by other estate owners. Perhaps, though, the selection of black animals had already begun before the sheep found their way to estates. Though this is probably not just cosmetic. Black horned feet are harder, grow more slowly and are more resistant to rot. They are thus particularly suitable for the boggy, peaty conditions to be found over large parts of the west of Britain. Had it not been for the existence of these parkland flocks, the breed would not have survived into the mid-twentieth century. In 1973 the Rare Breeds Survival Trust identified Hebridean sheep as a breed in danger of extinction.
Over the centuries, Hebridean ewes have been selected by natural systems for hardiness in all weathers, ease of lambing, milkiness and good mothering instincts. Because Hebrideans have not been modified by artificial selection they remain a small, economically efficient breeding ewe with a surprising ability to produce quality cross-bred lambs. They are a small, fine boned sheep with black wool and two or more horns, belonging to the North European short-tailed group. The Ewes typically weigh about 40kg with Rams being proportionately larger. The legs are proportionately long and are thin and delicate below the hocks. The feet are small with exceptionally hard horn. The sheep are not inclined to fatness. The body is relatively long for an animal of the size with well sprung ribs. For more information visit the Hebridean Sheep Society