Nescot college animal care department welcomed the first lamb of spring 2012 last week with the birth of a rather unusual four-horned ram.
The lamb was born to a rare breed Soay ewe, recently arrived from Butser Ancient Farm in Petersfield. The farm, which is run as a replica iron-age settlement, only has livestock resembling skeletons found in the archaeology of the period - including the rare four-horned Manx Loaghtan sheep.
‘We timed the lambing for after the Easter holidays with our resident ewes but this girl was already pregnant when she arrived,’ said Head Tutor Marcus Latter.
‘Once the lamb was born we immediately noticed the four little knobs on his head and so his father must have been one of the Manx rams at Butser. As he is also half Soay, it will be interesting to see how they develop as he gets older,’ he added.
The Soay ewe has come to Nescot as part of the college’s work with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, helping to preserve and protect ancient breeds of livestock under threat from intensive farming practices. The college already has several Shetland sheep, many of whom are due to lamb in April.
‘We’re lucky to be able to experience meeting these animals let alone getting to look after them.’ said animal care student Henry. This is the first time I’ve held him and he’s got quite a bit of strength already in those little legs!’
The Manx Loaghtan is one of the oldest and most striking breeds of sheep in the UK. Termed 'a primitive rare breed' it is classed as 'at risk' by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
The Manx Loaghtan (pronounced Manx Lockton) is a hardy mountain sheep, with impressive horns and a dark brown fleece. Four horned rams are particularly striking. The breed has been around unchanged since the Iron Age. Traditionally the Manx was thought to have been introduced into the UK by the Vikings, but bone records from archaeological sites indicate the Manx was probably already here and probably pre-dates Viking invasions.
The breed takes its name from the colour of its fleece, derived from two Manx words Lugh (mouse) and Dhoan (brown) or from Lhost dhoan (burnt brown). The lambs are born jet black acquiring the distinctive fleece by the time they are weaned.
The Manx Loaghtan used to exist in high numbers on the Isle of Man and across the UK. However by the 1950s there were only a handful left. Today, as with many rare breeds, it is only found in a few small flocks around the UK.