The rare Badger Face Torwen, a breed of Welsh mountain sheep whose numbers have declined dramatically in recent years, has been added to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) watchlist.
The RBST Watchlist lists the UK’s rarest native animal and equine breeds, and Torwen’s addition to the watchlist in February 2021 means the breed will now have targeted RBST support to help to the rebirth of the breed.
The RBST is the national charitable association that works to safeguard the future of native cattle and rare equine breeds. He will work in partnership with the Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society – whose numbers have declined by around 30% since 2013 – to increase the number of Torwen breeders, prevent inbreeding and preserve the future of the breed.
Torwen sheep have a black face with white markings and a black fleece with a white belly (Torwen means “white belly”). Their legs are tan with a black stripe, the underside of their tails is white, and rams have dark, spiraling horns. Their markings are the reverse of the Badger Face Torddu breed. The Badger Face Sheep’s historic name ‘Defaid Idloes’ suggests links to a 7th century figure, Saint Idloes of Mid Wales. The majority of current Torwen herds are still found in Wales, but herds have also been established in England and a small number in Scotland.
RBST Managing Director Christopher Price said: “The distinctive Torddu and Torwen Badger Face Sheep markings have been a feature of the Welsh mountains for centuries, but as numbers dwindle action is needed to prevent Torwens from disappearing.
“Not only are these sheep an integral part of our national heritage, but as hardy native breeds that produce delicious meat, the two Badger Face sheep breeds are expected to play an important role in the government’s post-Brexit vision for a future. sustainable for an agriculture that works in harmony with the natural environment.
Brian Eagles, past president of the Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society, has guarded Torwens for over 20 years. He said: “Torwens are very useful on farms and small farms due to their hardy nature, medium size and excellent mothering.
“They’re good for crossbreeding, popular in meat crates, and ideal for conservation grazing work, but they’re not as well-known as their Torddu cousins.
“I am delighted that their addition to the RBST Watchlist will encourage more smallholders and farmers to retain them and allow for greater promotion of the breed at agricultural shows through new Torwen classes or the inclusion of Torwen in the rare breed classes. Working with the RBST on targeted conservation programs will give this fantastic breed a better chance of survival in the future. ”
Only 491 breeding females of Badger Face Torwen were recorded in 2019, compared to 681 in 2013.
Torwen and Torddu were once categorized as a single breed, but the Badger Face Mountain Sheep Society has found evidence that the two breeds have long been raised separately, with a genetic history and inherited characteristics that clearly distinguish the two.
As the number of breeders has increased considerably, the Torddu is no longer classified as rare but the Torwen is less numerous. Crosses between Torwen and Torddu are called Wendu and are not considered to represent either breed.