At one time a small thrifty sheep known as the Scottish Dunface provided the mainstay for subsistence farmers living in the North and West of Britain. A North European variety of short-tailed Iron Age sheep. The Scottish Dunface was found with a range of fleece colours: white, black, brown or dun (a dull brown colour; dark, dusky).
It survived on the Scottish Mainland and Hebridean Islands until the late 19th Century, when it died out, displaced by the more productive long-tailed sheep varieties the Scottish Blackface and the Cheviot (photo courtesy of Cheviot Sheep Society of NZ).
However, several local types of Multi-horned Dunface sheep survived on the Islands around Scotland. They contributed to, and were probably the basis of the breed which became generally known as the “St Kilda” sheep. Today it is called the Hebridean Sheep.
In the 1880’s a flock of sheep were taken from the Island of North Uist to Storr Hall in Cumbria. These were distributed as ornamental animals to various English and Scottish Estates. By the early 20th Century the breed was thought to be extinct in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
In 1973 the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) identified these small black multi-horned sheep, once wide spread in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. As a distinct breed that was in danger of extinction. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust formalised it as a breed and named it the ‘Hebridean’.
Since the formation of the Hebridean Sheep Society (the HSS) in 1994, responsibility for the breed was taken over by the HSS, and sheep numbers have increased. The breed is now to be found widely across the whole of the United Kingdom. Which is a success story and enables its status to be upgraded in classification as a minority breed.