Although black sheep are not popular in Wexford, O’Leary’s Farm brought Zwartble sheep to the county in 2007. Since then Zwartble sheep have become increasingly popular and now have a seperate category in most agricultural shows.
Since the beginning of the last century, dairy farmers in the Freisland region of Holland have kept Zwartbles Sheep, a strikingly handsome black sheep with a distinctive white blaze.
Freisland lies in the North of Holland, and these beautiful and elegant sheep serve as dual purpose animals – meat and milk. The north of Holland can be very cold, wet and windy, but their fleeces are able to keep them warm, being very thick and fine.
Due to changes in farming practices, numbers of Zwartbles in Holland became severely reduced until the breed was adopted by the Dutch Rare Breed Survival trust in the mid-1970s. Later, in 1985, a group of breeders in Holland started a ‘Flock Book’ and the initiative has gone from strength to strength!
In the last few years, a small number of Zwartbles sheep have been imported by enthusiasts to Great Britain and Ireland, and this lead to the formation of the Zwartbles Sheep Association in 1995. There are now 236 registered Zwartbles flocks (a total of about 5285 sheep) spread throughout the UK, and they are well able to cope with the lowland and mid-altitude conditions in England, Wales, and Scotland.
The meat from Zwartbles sheep is very lean and sweet, and it has a very good ratio of live:dead weight. Additionally, the milk is a rich and healthy alternative to that of other breeds.Zwartbles are a docile and friendly sheep, and they a naturally polled (i.e. have no horns).The ewes are very prolific and milky, and well able to feed their triplets without assistance. They are also easy lambers because of the breed’s long, narrow head and wide pelvis.
Breeders, aware of the Zwartbles’ reputation for rapid growth rate and a low fat carcase, are successfully using the rams as terminal sires.