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The Manx Loaghtan is a small primitive sheep, one of the rare breeds of sheep on the watch list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The breed originates from the prehistoric short-tailed breeds of sheep found in isolated parts of North West Europe where they survived because they were not replaced by more developed breeds. Other breeds in this same group are Soay, Hebridean, Shetland, Boreray and North Ronaldsay.
Loaghtans and their relatives grazed the hills of the Isle of Man until the 18th century but by the 1950s numbers had declined to a handful. As a result of the work of enthusiasts on the Isle of Man and in England, numbers have steadily increased over the last 50 years. Continued success will ensure the Loaghtan has a future providing excellent quality meat and wool as a pure bred.
Originally, most of the sheep were white, however there were also many grey, some black and relatively few the “loaghtan” colour we see today. Loaghtan is the Manx word for the brown “moorit” colour of the fleece which is derived from two Manx words “lugh” meaning mouse and “dhoan” meaning brown, or from “lhosht dhoan” meaning burnt brown. Clothing made from this loaghtan coloured wool was highly prized and, as the numbers of the sheep declined, breeders selected sheep of the loaghtan colour. As the loaghtan colour is recessive to all other colours, it breeds true and so it was relatively simple to fix that colour as a characteristic of the breed. This is why the rich brown loaghtan colour is the only colour, with variations in shade depth, which survives today.
A comprehensive history of the Manx Loaghtan can be found in Peter Wade-Martins’ book “Manx Loghtan Story” (1990). Copies are available from the Secretary of the Manx Loaghtan Sheep Breeders’ Group.