Rare Breed Week: Lonk

Rare Breed Week: Lonk
Lara Pollard-Jones

Join us as we speak to the breeders and crafters who are helping to keep our rare breeds going!  Today we're finding out about the Lonk; pictures and words by Wool Circle.

We are Wool Circle!  Ed and Laura Sutcliffe have been running their hilltop farm above Heptonstall in West Yorkshire for ten years, they have flocks of Lonk and Whitefaced Woodlands., The Lonk is a British hill breed, with a medium/soft handle and fleece staple length of approximately 10-15cm. The Lonk sheep breed have been bred on the Pennines for thousands of years, and are still predominantly found around here. Their breed society has been established since the 12th Century.

We secured some land that came with Moor rights onto Heptonstall Common and we knew we wanted a Hill bred sheep to graze the Moor. We have always been ‘Sheep Geeks’ and wanted to support a local breed that would survive & thrive on the Moor, so Lonks were the natural choice. We ended up with the Whitefaced Woodlands a bit by accident as Laura was looking for her own flock of sheep that she could start showing at local shows and a farming friend just happened to have two Whitefaced Woodland ewes for sale at the time so it all started from there.


The benefits of both of these breeds is that they are from the South Pennine area and so are well suited to this landscape. This allows them to thrive and survive in, what at times can be, a challenging environment. Being over 1000ft above sea level and a with a high rain fall area you need a breed of sheep that is going to be able to cope with this environment. The challenges that these breeds can bring are that they come with a less monetary value in modern farming with everything geared towards fat lamb production. This is due to the fact that they are a lot slower growing and their carcass quality isn’t as good as other breeds which has led them to becoming Rare Breeds. The challenge is they can both jump like kangaroos so it’s a struggle to keep them where they should be!

We love our Lonks and Woodlands, and have no plans to change any time soon - small scale well-managed farming can have massive environmental benefits. Lonks and Whitefaced Woodlands are both rare breeds of sheep native to this particular area of the Pennines. Indeed, Lonks have been farmed in this area since the 13th Century. They are free ranging mountain sheep and Ed & Laura’s flock roam wild on Heptonstall Common and Midgley Moor over Spring & Summer before they round them up for shearing in August. The area covers 2000 acres and Ed walks up to 30 kms a day when he has to round them back up. Their Lonks and Woodlands are hefted flocks, which means that they will usually stay in a certain area without the need for any boundaries. The ewe will pass this knowledge onto its lambs which is very important since it teaches the lambs how to survive on the Moor.

Our perception of Wool has changed dramatically. From it being a bit of a nuisance having to just shear the sheep for welfare reasons. Now we see it as being a valued commodity and love being a part of every process of our wool’s journey where previously we didn’t have a clue what happened once we had sheared the sheep. It’s been a real eye opener seeing how valued wool is by the knitting community compared to the traditional farming perspective of it being worthless. Taking some of our wool through to yarn stages is going to help us sustain and diversify our farming business, having a positive financial impact on our business and help to make our farming business more sustainable and future proof. It’s also going to add value to our least profitable sheep breeds which will also help make their futures more sustainable as well so we can continue to help these local rare breeds to thrive in our area.

You can find Wool Circle on their website and Instagram.
If you'd like to find out more about the Lonk you can check out the Lonk Sheep Breeders' Association or the RBST.


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