The splitting gene can cause uneven results with three or five horns being found occasionally. This same gene also sometimes causes the top eyelid to divide, creating a “split eyelid”. Breed enthusiasts regard this as a defect and animals presenting split eye lid seem to have a greater propensity to develop eye infections. Split eye lid does not occur in two-horned animals.
Some breeders argue that the constant use of four-horned animals will create uneven horn patterns in the offspring. On four-horned stock, horns sometimes break off. Breeding from two horned stock alone will mean that there are no four-horned lambs. Whilst polled ewes, this means ewes without any horns, are identified by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust as being “undesirable”, genetically they are acceptable. This particular characteristic is a feature of four-horned sheep and flocks with only two-horned animals will also not present polled lambs.
Whatever the configuration of horns, they should not grow into the face or impede grazing. Four-horned lambs may also have completely different horn patterns from their parents.
These include the spectacles, lighter wool on the belly and the tail area and, less frequently, a light area under the chin. All of these features are undesirable in Loaghtans although they should not be confused with white markings (see section on white markings below).
Selecting generation after generation for the most modern-looking “blocky” sheep will contribute to animals deviating, possibly significantly, from the original breed type. The Loaghtan is a primitive, long legged and lean animal and to change that is poor genetic conservation.
White markings are currently regarded as unacceptable for showing.
Loaghtans should have short tails, ideally with hairy tips, not reaching below the hocks. Long, woolly tails should be avoided.
There is a wide variety of fleece types, some short and some long. Some fleeces present a mix of unpigmented fibres whilst others are almost pure Loaghtan. Selection of stock by reference to fleece type is a matter of personal preference and this can be effected by parting the fleece so as to facilitate close inspection.
The Loaghtan is a multi-horned breed, with two or four horns in both ewes and rams, although occasionally polled ewes occur. The four horned animal demonstrates the effects of a gene which splits the horn bud.
A Loaghtan should have a uniformly brown face. In particular, light-coloured rings or “spectacles” should be avoided round the eyes. When this does occur it appears to be a trait caused by cross-breeding a ram from the Castlemilk estate in Scotland in 1936 and also a Soay ram in 1966 when Loaghtan numbers were particularly low. The blood lines of these two rams cause the “mouflon” markings which sometimes occur.