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Manx Loaghtan

The Sheep

Manx Loaghtan is an endangered sheep breed that is originally from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and that was almost extinct at the beginning of the 1970's. Meanwhile their number has increased to about 1500 ewes, but nevertheless the species is still at high risk. Today, Manx Loaghtan are bred only very rarely, because they do not fulfill the commercial requirements that dictate white wool and a faster growth of the lambs.

The name is Gaelic, basically meaning „brown sheep from the Isle of Man“. The wool of the Manx varies from caramel, when bleached by the English sun, to chocolate brown, when freshly shorn. Both the rams and ewes have horns. However, the rams can have 4, and in rare cases even 6 horns.

Like the Hebridean sheep, the Manx are a primitive sheep breed, which has adapted to its landscape over the course of centuries without commercial sheep farming.

Our Unique Vintage Yarn – a Rarity

We refine the brown Manx Loaghtan wool with our particularly soft, white Merino wool in order to create the luxurious mélange yarn Manx Merino Fine. It is, for many reasons, something very special:

  • Because the sheep breed is so rare and, to our knowledge, there are only two sheep farms in the entire United Kingdom that keep Manx Loaghtan according to organic farming standards, the precious mélange yarn is also produced only in small amounts. Once it is out of stock, we have to wait for the next sheep shearing, which takes place only once per year.
    Therefore we came up with the idea to create a yearly vintage yarn with its terroir, where the sheep are bred, and the year indicated – as is common for a special wine. Similar to a good wine, the appearance and quality of the wool can vary from year to year, depending on the weather conditions (with the amount of sun, temperature, rainfall) and soil conditions, all influencing the terroir.
  • The yarn has subtle light and dark reflexes due to the natural colour of the sheep and is available undyed and in many dye colours. It is a Fingering weight yarn with 200m/50g (218yds/50g) that is particularly suitable for Fair Isle knitting, shawls, accessories, and luxurious tops. Because of its high share of softest Merino wool it can be worn comfortably on the skin.
  • We process this yarn, as we do for all our yarns, according to the strict GOTS criteria, without dangerous chemicals, under strict controls for harmful residues, and with fair working conditions.
  • We donate a portion of the proceeds to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust which is committed to the protection of endangered sheep breeds in Great Britain. This way we already raised more than 13000 € for them. We hope that by doing so we are able to contribute to the support and further spread of these unique four-legged survivalists.

Protection of the Species

Great Britain has a long tradition of sheep farming and with almost 60 different breeds a fascinating variety. However, almost half of these breeds are in danger of extinction according to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST). The RBST is committed to the protection of endangered breeds of farm animals and especially of sheep in Great Britain. It also publishes a list of endangered species.

In Germany, there is an organization with a similar concern, the Gesellschaft zur Erhaltung alter und gefährdeter Haustierrassen e.V. (GEH). It initiated, among other things, the Arche project with over 90 participating farms in Germany, organises an animal sponsorship project and supports local work by means of regional groups.

Rosy Green Wool supports the RBST with a donation from Manx yarns sold and the German equivalent GEH by means of a sheep sponsorship.

Langley Chase Farm

The Manx raw wool we currently use for our yarn comes from certified organic farm Langley Chase in Wiltshire, England.

Jane Kallaway writes on her website about the history of her farm:

I started the flock, with the help of my family, after the BSE crisis and my concern over what my family was eating, where it came from and how it was reared. I also wanted to help save a rare breed and produce food organically. I had always been interested in keeping sheep, so before I started I researched rare breeds, particularly those termed ‘at risk’ and in need of support. Apart from choosing the right breed it was also extremely important to me to be organic. As soon as I started the flock we converted all our land to organic production and joined the Soil Association, as it has the highest organic standards in the UK.

We visited Jane Kallaway 2016 on Langley Chase and were able to see for ourselves the large meadows where the herd grazes.

Fowlescombe Farm

The previous shearing years are from Fowlescombe Farm in Devon, England. The estate, situated near Dartmoor, has a history dating back to the year 1537. For many years it has been run with dedication by Barbara Barker, together with her husband Richard, until his early death. It is certified by the Soil Association to organic standards. The Barkers are committed not only to the conservation of rare sheep breeds, but to the protection of animals and environment in a much broader sense and they are members of the committee of the RBST's Devon Support Group. Fowlescombe offers holiday cottages in a magnificent landscape – 2009/2010 the farm has won the Beautiful Farm Award for West- and Southwest Great Britain.

We first visited Fowlescombe in June 2014 for the sheep shearing in order to meet Barbara, Richard and their exceptional sheep. The animals graze on bountiful pastures over several hills and on meadows with apple trees. The lands stretch over 191 hectars in all. Currently, they have about 100 ewes of the Manx Loaghtan and Hebridean breeds. Together with the lambs and rams, there are about 250 sheep in total on the farm.

In our video Richard tells us about the Fowlescombe flock.

Langley Chase: Jane Kallaway (left) and her Manx Loaghtans with Rosy

Fowlescombe: Barbara and Richard Barker
Video: The Fowlescombe Flock