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Breed History

The Oxford Down breed originated in the 1830s after crossing Cotswold rams with Hampshire Down and Southdown ewes. Over the next 50 years the breed stabilised and, as many of the early flocks were centered around the town of Witney in Oxfordshire, the name Oxford Down was adopted.

The breed achieved widespread success, producing outstanding sheep for mutton and wool, and purebred flocks were established throughout Britain and Ireland. Large numbers were exported to the USA, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Russia and Argentina. The Oxford Down Sheep Breeders' Association was established in 1889 and in the same year the first Flock Book was published to record the pedigrees of the breed.

The reputation of the Oxford Down grew, and for the first half of the twentieth century it was one of the most popular crossing sires for lamb and mutton production. Upwards of 1000 rams were penned annually at the Kelso Ram Sales in the Scottish Borders while in England the traditional sale was the Oxford Ram Fair.

H C Stilgoe's Adderbury ram lamb, champion at the 1943 Oxford Ram Fair
(Photo courtesy of Oxford Down SBA)

The breed slipped from favour in the period between 1955 and 1970, a victim of fashion and the trend towards smaller breeds. A small group of dedicated breeders mainly in the Midlands, Yorkshire, Northumberland, the Borders, Aberdeenshire and Eire maintained their flocks of Oxford ewes throughout the 1970s and saw the breed enjoy a revival in the 1980s as a crossing sire. This popularity was based on the breed's ability to sire both early maturing lambs and large, lean, heavy lambs.

Today the breed continues to fulfil a specialist role as a terminal sire breed and approximately 85 registered flocks are listed in the Flock Book with a total of 1600 pedigree breeding females. Oxford Down populations can also be found in the USA, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Slovakia and New Zealand. Oxford-type populations exist in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, and Russia.

Oxford Down ewes with lambs at foot c.1959
(Photo courtesy of John L Jones)