Cavan woman helps restore Roscommon sheep breed

Cavan-based farmer and entrepreneur Sandra Coote is helping to re-establish the Co. Roscommon sheep breed.

“My love of sheep dates back to my teenage years. We raised 300 breeding ewes in County Longford, and every summer my dad and I selected the best sheep to show,” Sandra said. Agriland.

“We bred purebred Texel sheep and crossed ewes, but for show. I also acquired a pair of Galway ewes,” she said.

“When we bought them I was told of the Roscommon breed of sheep, a much larger sheep of similar appearance – but a breed considered extinct.

“I never thought that years later I would own a few Roscommon sheep and work to reestablish the breed.”

It all started with wool

Thanks to Sandra’s interest in heritage crafts and using sustainable natural products for crafts, she began to learn how to spin wool.

“At first I was happy to use wool from local farmers, but the more I got into crafting, the more I wanted to buy sheep so I could take the wool that grazed the land surrounding my craft workshop and use it for spinning and needle felting,” she said.

“I looked at the breed options available in Ireland, but what I really wanted was a breed that had a real connection to Ireland.

“Most of our breeds of sheep were brought to Ireland in the last century, the only known exception at the time being Galway sheep,” she said.

Sandra

“When a message appeared on Irish Rare Breeds Facebook looking for people with and wanting to buy five Roscommon ewes and a ram to preserve the breed, it certainly caught my eye – a breed that for years was thought to be extinct,” Sandra explained.

Sandra messaged the page in response and learned that a County Longford farmer, Noel Kiernan, still had the remains of the breed. He was looking for people to buy some of the sheep to help reestablish the breed.

“We bought five breeding ewes and a ram at Christmas and started our journey with the sheep. Since then, more and more farmers have acquired part of the sheep and the number of people involved is constantly growing,” explained Sandra.

“Now, just over three years later, great progress has been made to secure the future of the breed. Grants have been secured to genotype all Roscommon sheep and the results are very positive.

“Genotyping will continue over the next few years and this will help determine the best foundation stock to re-establish the breed.”

Another important step was the reform of the Roscommon Sheep Breeders Association.

“The original association was formed in 1895 in Tulsk, Co. Roscommon, and it was back in the same village that a meeting was held to elect a committee. I’m thrilled to be the secretary and look forward to playing my part again in bringing recognition to the breed’s pedigree,” said Sandra.

“Unfortunately, too much of our heritage is slowly fading away; the breeds are endangered or on the verge of extinction and to be able to play a small part in preserving the oldest recorded breed of Irish sheep is a privilege,” she said.