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Norfolk Horn Rare Breed

The Norfolk Horn is one of the oldest breeds of sheep in Britain and although named after the county of Norfolk the breed developed in the relative isolation of East Anglia and was the prevalent breed in Norfolk, Suffolk, north Essex and south east Cambridgeshire. The breed belongs to the group of British black-faced hill or heathland breeds, but differs from other members of the group which mainly are found in high-rainfall upland areas.

Sheep were a critical element of the foldcourse rotation practised in East Anglia during the Medieval Period, being used to graze and dung both the fallows and corn stubbles to improve soil fertility. However it was their wool that made sheep an integral part of Norfolk life at this time and well into the 19th Century.

Norwich weavers relied on wool from Norfolk and Suffolk, as East Anglia dominated England's wool production and grew wealthy on its profits - wool during this period was England's most important export. Norwich operated as a wool staple in 1353, bringing great business opportunity with it. The growth of the wool industry continued for centuries and the legacy is celebrated today.

When greater attention began to be given to breed development in the early eighteenth century, contemporary agricultural commentators and improvers did not hold the breed in high regard, many did however comment on the excellent flavour of the meat.

In an effort to improve productivity of sheep production by the late eighteenth century breeds such as Southdown sheep were being introduced to East Anglia and crossed with the Norfolk Horn. Within a matter of a few decades Norfolk Horns lost their pre-eminence to these crosses which were ultimately to become the Suffolk sheep breed. In 1886 the Suffolk Sheep Society was formed. The Suffolk is now the ram most frequently used to produce finished lamb in Britain, making the contribution of the Norfolk Horn to the modern farming industry invaluable.

The number of Norfolk Horns declined and by the end of the nineteenth century there were only perhaps 300 Norfolk Horn sheep remaining and in 1950 there were only 10 registered ewes and two rams. The remaining animals were transferred to the National Agricultural Centre at Stoneleigh, and a breeding programme, prepared and monitored by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, resulted in the revival of the breed.

Since the 1970s Norfolk Horn numbers have risen considerably and there are now around 2500 pedigree Norfolk Horns in 79 flocks scattered across the British Isles.

For more information about Rare Breeds and the English Sheep Farming Industry visit:

Rare Breed Survival Trust

National Sheep Association
Mutton Renaisance
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