The recording and branding of Exmoor Horn flocks has developed since the beginning of the 20th century. In June of 1906, a meeting was held in the Lamb Hotel (now Lamb Court), Dulverton, to discuss the formation of a breed society for Exmoor Horn sheep. This was at a time when many breed societies were being formed to regularise breed standards, maintain breed purity and register the location and ownership of flocks or herds. By December of that year, the Exmoor Horn Sheep Breeders’ Society had 120 members spread across the south west, and this rose to 190 by 1924. Some of the flocks had been in existence since the 1700s, and rams were numbered and named, which is still often the case. 11,000 pure Exmoor Horn sheep (ewes and rams) were branded in the left horn with an anchor mark followed by the owner’s flock number. The anchor mark signifies Exmoor and is a symbol shared with the branding of Exmoor ponies. Sales were advertised for 1907 at Winsford, Blackmoor Gate and South Molton. At that time livestock which couldn’t be walked to market along droving routes travelled by rail from stations which dotted the line linking Taunton to Barnstaple. At Bampton, Dulverton, East Anstey, Molland, South Molton, and Blackmoor Gate there was lairage for sheep and cattle, thus facilitating the movement of finished, grazing and breeding livestock.
Exmoor Horn sheep are unusual in having both sexes horned, which makes identification easy. Having a flock number allocated post 1906 replaced the older system of branding with the owner’s initial, and this number is on the left horn. The right horn is branded with a single digit showing the year of birth, with an “X” replacing a zero.
Horn branding does NOT hurt the sheep. Irons are heated either with a wood or coal fire, or as nowadays, using a more convenient gas flame. Flock numbers are inserted into a holder and secured with a pin of wire before heating.
Flock no. 1 is still in the same family, and belongs to the Westcotts. Likewise flock no. 3, which had been established in 1844, still belongs to the Tucker family, who continue to farm at Stetfold Rocks, with the farming objective, then as now, to “endeavour to choose sires with a view of breeding a hardy and healthy flock that would live on a farm with an altitude of over 1,000 feet above sea level”.
The Flock Book continued through both World Wars, though restrictions meant that there were no photographs included, and in 1940 petrol rationing is recorded as having prevented members attending the AGM.
The Flock Book is issued every year with updated information, as collated by the Secretary. In 1960 the hardback cover was replaced by a stiff card cover, in the same burgundy colour and with gold lettering as previously. The exception to this was in the Society’s centenary year, when the cover was blue. Arabic (current) numerals replaced Roman numerals in 1970 for the issue number. Each year the book contains a photo of the current President, who is elected annually, rules, show and sale results, and a list of members with and without flocks.
In addition to traditional ways of identifiying sheep, all breeding stock everywhere, plus lambs above a certain age, must carry a uniquely recognisable electronic tag in one ear, with a matching visual tag in the other. This is a legal requirement, with penalties for non-compliance. The tag consists of the country of origin (UK), then a six digit flock number, then a six digit individual number.
Though indigenous to the uplands of the south west, Exmoor Horns have, in the past, travelled further afield.
In 1906 shearlings had recently been exported to South Africa for crossing with Merino ewes, and a letter from Natal in 1950 expressed interest in acquiring some for the same purpose after seeing a picture in Farmer and Stockbreeder (which later became Farmer’s Weekly) of Sidney Rudd’s wethers at Smithfield.
Four ewes and a ram were sent to Argentina in 1910, but perhaps the biggest export was to America for the Chicago Exhibition of 1913. The Society’s ram lamb and yearling ram took part, plus 6 yearling ewes and 6 ewe lambs, owned by Mr Young of Bulford, Wiltshire. He had previously exported 140 ewes to America, and the “Exmoor Association of America” started with great enthusiasm. It was report in the press that “On the poorest of agricultural land, their production of wool and mutton is unsurpassed”. No exporting took place during the First World War, and after that there are no records of what happened to the American Exmoor Horn flocks.
In 1935 the Flock Book has a picture of Exmoor Horn ewes in Belgium, but despite an obvious close link, there is little documented evidence for it.
Closer to home, there exists a photograph of John Bawden’s Exmoor Horn ewes from Hawkridge being driven through Dulverton on their way to the station at the Carnarvon Arms Hotel, bound for the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.