Shetland Sheep

Ark of taste
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Shetland Sheep

Shetland sheep are one of the smallest British breeds. It’s a local variation on the now extinct Scottish Dunface a Northern European short-tailed sheep first brought to Britain in the Iron Age. They have no wool on the face, nose or legs, and small, erect ears. The legs are of medium length and finely boned. A distinguishing feature of northern short-tailed sheep is the short, fluke-shaped tail, broad at the base, tapering to a point, and covered towards the tip in hair, not wool. Shetlands occur in very many different colours and patterns, most of which have particular names. Rams usually weigh 90 to 125 lb (41 to 57 kg) and ewes about 75 to 100 lb (34 to 45 kg).?The sheep are extensively reared and have access to grass pastures, vast tracts of heather hills and rugged shoreline.Shetland Lamb has a PDO and must be born raised and slaughtered in Shetland. The meat of the Shetland lamb has been described as very tender and sweet.The breed produces naturally lean meat as the animals have to forage over large areas.??The texture and flavour of Shetland lamb is distinctive and different from lamb derived from other breeds of sheep produced in other areas of the UK due to the topography, geology and climate of the Shetland Islands. The best flavour comes from animals that exclusively graze Shetland’s natural plants and grasses. Consequently, Native Shetland lamb is mainly available in the autumn.In a research, Shetland Lamb was found to have significantly higher levels of a derivative of Omega-6, Conjugated Linoleic Acid when compared to levels normally found in lamb. Conjugated Linoleic Acid has been found to be an agent that prevents the onset of cancer.The consumption of meat in Shetland reflects the varied cultural influences and history of the Islands.??Under the rule of the Kingdom of Denmark and Norway until the mid 15th Century, Shetland retains a strong Scandinavian flavour in its customs and culture. This influence went relatively unchecked until the mid 18th century when the increasing power of the Lairds from mainland Scotland brought about a rapid change in culture, dialect and eating habits.??Meat was traditionally a cold weather feast in Shetland. Fish would be dried in Springtime and eaten throughout the summer. In September, the older sheep from the farmers flock would be slaughtered and prepared for the winter months. As the breed is almost half the size of commercial lambs the number of producers on Shetland who are breeding pure Shetland sheep has been in decline for a number of years. Crofters could finish the lambs of the bigger breeds in one season and therefore didn’t have to feed them over the winter.??Due to the distance from markets and the costs involved this is now a premium product aimed at the gourmet market.The identity and quality of the breed is lost when it is sold through the mainstream lamb trade where it is sold by size alongside poor examples of larger breeds into the bottom end of the market. The distance to markets is another factor factor. Not only are transport costs increasing but distance from markets is not a criterion factored into Less Favoured Area Payments. These payments are determined on geographical disadvantages rather than remoteness.

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StateUnited Kingdom

Scotland - Shetland

Production area:Shetland Islands

Other info


Breeds and animal husbandry

Nominated by:Carol Anne Stewart, Scottish Crofting Federation