The Cheviot sheep is a very old breed from the English Scottish border region. Originally, a small hardy breed, recorded in 1372 over large areas of the Cheviot Hills. During these times Britain was a big wool producer and a reasonable assumption is that the breed was kept for its wool. It has also been suggested that there is an infusion of Merino (Cheviot Handbook 1961).
They were altered to bigger sheep with a heavier fleece with the infusion of Lincolns and Ryelands in the late eighteenth century by James Robson of Roxburghshire. At about the same time James Sinclair took some to the far north of Scotland as an experiment. This was so successful that they became established as a sub-type. The Australian sheep are the southern type.
They had to be able to survive in all weathers, be able to forage for feed, and thus evolved a breed which is very active and has high fertility.
They first arrived in Australia in 1843 imported by the Van Diemen Co. to Tasmania. It was not until 1938 that the first stud was established in this country by H R Walsh & Son of South Australia. By the late 50s to early 60s the breed had become very popular. As usual with fads they then waned in fashion until now there were only 1311 ewes registered in Australian in 1997 (ASBBS Flock Book)
The Cheviot is a dual purpose breed, notable for their clean white faces and prick ears. They are of medium height with rams weighing between 75 and 85 kg and ewes weighing 30 to 50 kg. Because they are a British Hill Breed they must be able to move and their structure is somewhat like a horse, with a small dip behind the withers and a sloping rump. They also must have the characteristics of a mutton breed, having good chest room, deep body and well filled hindquarter.
They should have black noses as a protection against skin cancer and black feet which are hard and will withstand wet conditions better, and are reputed to resist footrot.
The fleece is often classified as a Downs fleece because of the characteristic three dimensional crimp (instead of two two dimensional). This gives it a chalky appearance. The length is 4-6 inches (100-150mm) and ewes cut around 2½kg and rams 3½kg. This also varies greatly. The fleece has been used as a speciality fibre in carpet making. When 10% Cheviot wool is added to a carpet the quality is increased by 15% or the weight can be reduced by 15% and the same quality retained.
Because they are active, because there is always better feed on the other side of the fence, fencing must be in good order. It is strongly recommended that well strained ringlock be used. The breed can be flighty if infrequently or roughly handled. This is partly due to good sight (clean faces), good hearing (prick ears) and the ability to move (all ancient survival skills). They are very quick to learn what hand feeding is (also survival) so try rattling some oats in a bucket next time!
On the down side, because of their exposed eyes they do seem to have more than their share of eye problems.
In Australia they have been used for crossing for prime lamb mothers and as terminal prime lamb sires. The ewes are excellent mothers, with high fertility and are good milkers. These traits are passed on when cross bred.
These days many people use them for a self replacing killer flock which can be maintained with the minimum of attention.
Head: polled, medium size, wide forehad, free of all wool, covered with
fine white hair and sometimes the odd black spot.
Face: strong and clean, with wide black nostrils.
Eyes: dark in colour, and with sparkling appearance.
Ears: carried fairly erect, well covered with white hair, both inside and outside, with odd black spots sometimes showing.
Neck: strong, and of fair length
Shoulders: well set on with plenty of heart room.
Chest: wide and deep.
Back: straight and fleshy
Ribs: well-sprung with a good loin.
Hind Quarters: broad, well-turned rump, with a well-filled leg of mutton.
Legs: short, set well apart, and covered with white hair
Skin: healthy pink colour
Carriage: very alert and stylish.
Wool: close and fine, free from roughness and kemp. Suggested wool count, 59's - 60's.
General Appearance: being a square-set, compact, white-faced sheep, with a close, fine fleece, and a very alert gay carriage.
Photos: Courtesy of Sue and Bruce Dupe, Parla Gully Cheviot Sheep Stud, 320 Centre Road, Wensleydale, Victoria, Australia.
Breed Description: from the Australian Society of Breeders of British Sheep Limited Flock Book.
Last updated 31 December 2001