The Cheviot sheep hails from the Cheviot Hills of the Border region of Scotland and England. Its ancestry is uncertain, but most breed experts believe that the Cheviot descended from white and tan sheep kept by the Celts since ancient times. This early population was probably in turn influenced by long-wooled sheep brought in by Roman invaders.
The resulting combination was a remarkably hardy breed with white wool of notable quality. Monks and similar religious groups often kept flocks of Cheviot for wool, both for their own use and to sell for income. The quality of the fleece became so famous throughout Europe that the monks made handsome profits selling it for export.
However, when Scotland and Great Britain began to experience conflict in the early 1300s, the flocks of sheep were imperiled. Lawlessness prevailed on the Border, and farmers frequently had their sheep stolen or slaughtered. The result was a declining sheep population that did not recover until the 1700s, when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England.
The remnant of the Cheviot breed was augmented by an infusion of British sheep genetics, probably useful in increasing the wool quality yet further. Various other breeds may have been introduced into the gene pool from time to time, but the harsh environment served to keep the Cheviot remarkably pure for centuries, as most crossbreeding attempts served only to reduce the hardiness of the sheep.
But not long after the Cheviot population began to recover, a new threat appeared in Scotland and England—the Merino breed from Spain. The fine wool of the Merino quickly became far more popular, leaving the Cheviot without a purpose. Border farmers responded by shaping their hardy breed into a dual-purpose animal, with a heavier body suited for mutton production.
The first Cheviot sheep in America were imported in 1828. At first, the breed was regarded as a lanky specimen of little use. However, dedicated improvement efforts redeemed the Cheviot’s reputation as a meat animal. The breed increased steadily in population across the United States.
Today, the Cheviot is one of the top mutton breeds in the America. It is primarily a resident of the eastern states, although populations have been established in Alaska.
There is also an American Miniature Cheviot developed for homestead use. This variety more closely resembles the true dual-purpose Cheviot still popular in the United Kingdom.
The Cheviot is a dual-purpose breed valued for wool and mutton alike. Its exceptional hardiness and foraging ability make it useful in profiting from scrubby waste land that would otherwise lie idle.
The fleece is popular among fiber artists due to its sturdiness, which can be very useful in creating unique wool blends. The durability of Cheviot fleece is owning to its springy helical (spiral-shaped) crimp, in contrast to the zigzag wave typical of most wool.
Rams are often used to produce crossbred lambs for market.
The Cheviot is a good choice for training a young sheepdog in advanced herding skills, as it is not aggressive, but its speed and loose flocking instinct provide a challenge.
The Cheviot is an alert, wary, independent, and active sheep. It retains a surprising level of survival instinct for a domestic breed. However, it can also be reasonably friendly if handled by humans on a regular basis.
This breed can be somewhat difficult to herd. For one thing, it has a relatively weak flocking instinct. For another thing, it can move quite quickly. The result can be a flock of sheep that readily ends up scattered across the pasture. However, the Cheviot typically will not challenge a sheepdog unless approached with too much force.
Overall, the Cheviot is a tough, vigorous breed. Its sturdy, springy wool renders it resistant to fly strike and fleece rot. Also, the Cheviot grows hair on its face instead of fleece, which means that it is not prone to wool blindness.
- Adaptability to a wide range of climates.
- Exceptional grazing instinct.
- Ability to thrive on low-quality forage with little or no supplemental feed.
- Prolific tendencies.
- Easy lambing.
- Mothering ability.
- High yield of quality wool.
- Sturdy fiber.
- Mild, tender meat.
- Ability to transmit hardiness and easy lambing to crossbred offspring.
- Loose flocking instinct, which can make it hard to herd.
- Small carcass.