The Lleyn breed, their future in the Irish Sheep sector

Image Credit: Hannah Woods

Aoife Quinn discusses her experience farming Lleyn sheep, and what makes them so unique and a top choice for breeders nationwide.

The Lleyn sheep breed is one that has always featured in our flock at home along the Atlantic Coast in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo. In either pedigree or cross form the Lleyn is a breed I have somehow always had a soft spot for. Be it the beautiful and elegant strut that this breed has when moving about or my increased admiration for its mothering abilities no matter what previous experience, the Llyens will always remain with me no matter where I am.

Originating from the Ll?n peninsula in Gwynedd, North-West Wales, the Lleyns have many desirable traits for sheep breeders as well as having unique and distinct feminine features amongst its ewes. A medium sized sheep, they are renowned for their prolificacy, hardiness, easy lambing, strong mothering instinct and easy handling, all of which are hard characteristics to try and achieve in some other breeds.

I personally can vouch for these traits as we rarely have to intervene when lambing commences with the Lleyns and have always noticed how committed and guarded these ewes are of their young from day one. Being located so close to the seaside, the Lleyns are perfectly suited to be put to grass in what can only be described as some challenging weather conditions in the West of Ireland at times, making the breed suitable to thrive on upland and lowland areas all the while producing both prime lambs and breeding replacements. The Lleyn ewe is also very versatile in terms of its crossing ability with other breeds, which is of equal importance for commercial breeders, who may choose to cross this very prolific breed with other breeds for various traits, including meat or muscle. 

more and more Lleyn breeders are popping up every year showcasing the strong future this breed of sheep has

Breeds often crossed with the Lleyn include Charolais, Texel, Suffolk, Beltex, Zwartble and Hampshire Down. On our own farm we tend to cross some of our Lleyns with Charolais and Zwartble breeds as we sell a wide range of our crossbred lambs throughout the year, keeping the best of ewe lambs for replacements from both the crossbreds and pedigrees that are bred within the flock. Although the purebred Lleyn lamb can be finished to a carcass weight in the range of 18-22kg, the main focus of this breed is its prolificacy with 180-200% lambing percentages often seen. This is why selecting ewes year on year that continue to breed two lambs is very easily done within the prolific Lleyn breed to maximise efficiency and ensure lambing percentages remain high. 

Recently, I have begun to increase the numbers of Llelyn pedigrees on our home farm again through the purchase of hoggets last year and a hogget ram at the latest society sale, this season gone by. These have joined my fathers purebreds and all together, including the crossbreds, there is now sixty breeding ewes for the upcoming breeding season, with forty homebred replacement lambs kept from this year’s lambing season.  Year on year, I plan on keeping more of the Lleyn ewe lambs to be bred as hogget’s with the hope of eventually having my own flock once I graduate from my UCD Animal Science course next May. Lleyns are a breed I have always grown up with and I plan on continuing to breed and sell to promote this extremely prolific and desirable breed. 

The Lleyn ewe is also very versatile in terms of its crossing ability with other breeds, which is of equal importance for commercial breeders

Throughout the country more and more Lleyn breeders are popping up every year showcasing the strong future this breed of sheep has. Be it its guaranteed high prolificacy rates or hardiness to protect and care for its young, no matter what conditions are put in its path, this breed is one many sheep breeders are trying to get their hands on. With annual pedigree sales taking place, as well as high entry numbers into shows, it is evident the Irish interest is growing as well as more people seeing the benefits of bringing British breeding across the waters into our flocks. “A very easy-care sheep” is a way I like to sum up the Lleyn breed in simple terms and I know many more Lleyn breeders will agree with me!