Cotswold Animals

PUBLISHED: 10:33 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:40 20 February 2013

Cotswold sheep

Cotswold sheep

Ever since humans first began to use and domesticate wild animals they have been changing those animals by selection to suit their needs. Livestock have been chosen for their temperament, ease of handling, ability to work and for their production ...

Ever since humans first began to use and domesticate wild animals they have been changing those animals by selection to suit their needs. Livestock have been chosen for their temperament, ease of handling, ability to work and for their production of wool, meat, milk and eggs. Many of our old, self-reliant, multi-purpose breeds have been reduced to pitifully low numbers and some have been lost forever.

Text courtesy of Joe Henson, founder Chairman of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, who opened the Cotswold Farm Park near Guiting Power in 1971 as a shop window for rare breed conservation.

Cotswold Sheep

Soay Sheep

Gloucestershire Old Spot Pig

Gloucester Cattle

Belted Galloway Cattle

Bagot Goats

These sheep, descended from Roman stock, once roamed the Cotswold Hills in their thousands, and were known as the Cotswold Lions. In fact the hills take their name from the sheep. These were the "wolds" or bare hills of the sheep, "cots" or sheep enclosures. During the middle ages their wool was sold to produce great wealth, enabling the local merchants to build beautiful manor houses and churches. A Cotswold sheep produces a fleece weighing an average of 5.5 kg (12 lbs) of long lustrous wool each year and this wool is still made into traditional rugs or "throws", dyed in the colours of our local Cotswold stone, mosses and lichens. By 1969 there were only a handful of flocks remaining. With the help of the Cotswold Sheep Society, the breed has been gradually increasing in numbers and there is now a good local demand for Cotswold woollen products and quality Cotswold meat.

Soays are the ancestors of all modern sheep breeds and have remained unchanged since the Stone Age, by being isolated on the islands of Soay and Hirta off the west coast of Scotland. The ancestors of the flock that can be seen at the Cotswold Farm Park were brought from Hirta in the 1960's. They are kept as a natural feral flock with a senior or "king" ram, groups of breeding females with a clear hierarchical social structure, and groups of young bachelor males who spend a good deal of their time play fighting in anticipation of one day leading the flock. Soays are light-weight, shed their wool in the summer and need no intensive shepherding. They are very hardy, can survive off extensive pastures and lamb easily outdoors, thus lending themselves to smallholders who want an easy care sheep. They are also ideal for nature reserves where there is a need to maintain biodiversity by sensitive grazing. There are many small flocks throughout the Cotswolds AONB and can sometimes be mistaken for a goat or deer. Both males and females have horns, they are either dark or light brown and usually carry the wild mouflon markings, with a pale chin and belly.

This is the traditional breed from the apple orchards of the Severn Vale. The Old Spot was kept as a free range outdoor pig, living on windfall apples in the orchards and enjoying whey, the by-product from cheese production, which was prolific in the region. Folklore has it that the black spots on the pigs were caused by falling apples bruising their skin! They are a large pig with lop ears, white with a varied amount of black spots on the body. Gloucestershire Old Spots are docile, hardy, great foragers and have excellent mothering qualities for their large litters. However, they do not do well in intensive indoor pig farms where they get too fat and as a result, like all the coloured outdoor breeds, they became very rare. A strong breed society and dedicated interest from breeders has kept the breed from extinction. Today the uplift in interest for local, free range pork from traditional breeds has been their saving grace. You can't go wrong with Gloucestershire Old Spot sausages.


The Old Gloucester was a triple purpose breed used for milk production, draught work and meat. They are a beautiful dark mahogany colour with a striking white line down the back and along the belly. The cows produce milk which was ideal for cheese-making, an important characteristic when fresh milk could not reach the London market from Gloucestershire, and by the thirteenth century traditional Double Gloucester cheese had become famous. Sadly they could not compete with the specialist dairy breeds for gross milk production and were gradually replaced by Longhorns, Shorthorns and finally the black and white Holstein Friesians. By 1975 only one herd remained, belonging to the Dowdeswell sisters at Wick Court near Gloucester. A Bemborough herd was established in 1969 direct from Wick Court, which produced a number of key bulls for use in the artificial insemination programme. Nationally numbers are increasing with the support of an active breed society and there are now a growing number of enthusiasts who are milking pedigree Gloucester cattle within Gloucestershire, to produce Single Gloucestershire cheese. This is protected, like champagne is to the champagne region.

A "polled" or hornless breed, the Belted Galloway originated from the South West of Scotland and is very well adapted to its own particular environment, and to extensive beef production out of doors. They are very hardy and grow a thick winter coat which is made even more attractive by their white belt or belly band. The background colour is normally black, although dun and red animals do occur. It may seem curious that a Scottish breed fits into the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). However due to the Galloway's hardiness, ability to calve easily, mothering instincts and conversion of poor pasture into quality meat, Natural England have found that they make an ideal choice for conservation grazing in the Cotswolds.

The Bagot is a feral parkland breed whose ancestors, it is believed, were brought back from the crusades by Richard the Lion Heart in the 12th century. They were then given to Sir Richard Bagot by King Richard II, in the 1390's as a thank you for a good days hunting. They then remained in Bagot Park, near Blithfield in Staffordshire for over 500 years. In 1953 the Park was flooded to form a reservoir to provide water for the city of Birmingham, and the goats were removed. A small group were saved by Nancy Lady Bagot and the well known naturalist and journalist Phil Drabble, best known for his series "One Man and His Dog", who happened to live alongside the Park. A trio were given to the Cotswold Farm Park to found our herd in 1970 by Nancy Lady Bagot. Despite recent efforts, the Bagot is a breed which has struggled to gain in popularity as it doesn't produce a lot of milk or meat and it is a very lively breed to keep.


In 1973 Cotswold Sheep were classified as "critically rare", with less than 250 ewes. In 2008 their classification is now "at risk", with less than 1500 ewes.

In 1973 Soay sheep were classified as "endangered", isolated on one island, with less than 500 ewes in other flocks on the mainland. In 2008 their classification is now "at risk", with less than 1500 ewes.

In 1973 Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs were classified as "at risk" with less than 500 females. In 2008 they are now classified as a "minority" breed with less than 1000 females

In 1975 Gloucester cattle were classified as "critically rare" with only 12 bulls and 60 females (including calves). In 2008 they are now classified as "at risk" with less than 750 females.

In 1973 Belted Galloways were not classified as rare, and in 2008 their classification is "native" which means there are more than 1500 cows.

In 1973 the Bagot Goat was classified as "critically rare" with less than 50 nannies and in 2008 their classification remains the same!

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