Taste the Love - Manx Loaghtan sheep

PUBLISHED: 11:50 06 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:30 20 February 2013

Taste the Love - Manx Loaghtan sheep

Taste the Love - Manx Loaghtan sheep

They're small, primitive and delicious... Lesley Bates meets the lady who is helping save this rare breed from extinction

They're small, primitive and delicious... Lesley Bates meets the lady who is helping save this rare breed from extinction



There have been hundreds of new arrivals at Langley Chase Organic Farm this spring, keeping Jane Kallaway on her toes. Jane runs an award-winning flock of rare breed Manx Loaghtan (pronounced lockton)"sheep magnificent, multi-horned beasts with rich chocolate-coloured fleeces on Wiltshire downland above Chippenham. Lambing season this year has been particularly productive and her breeding flock has given birth to around 200 lambs, predominantly twins.
And we havent lost one, she says proudly. They have all been amazingly healthy, which is an attribute of the breed.
Jane is very hands-on. Although she has help during the lambing season, and says that her family is hugely supportive, it is largely her and treasured sheepdog Flute who are out in all weathers tending the flock.
There are times when you are in a five-acre field with horizontal rain and wind, hanging onto your hat and trying to hoick a ewe out of a ditch, when you think why am I doing this!"But then I get back to an e-mail saying we had your lamb last night and it was so delicious, and its all worthwhile.


Jane researched carefully before opting to breed Manx Loaghtans after the BSE crisis in the mid-1990s prompted her to take a careful look at the way our animal stocks are reared to produce the food we put on our tables. As a mother of four, it made her question what we eat, where it comes from and how its reared. At the time, Langley Chase was home to Jane, husband Bill (who runs London-based sponsorship and public relations company Kallaway) and their children Will, Hannah and twins Abigail and Felicity, and was used primarily as grazing for their horses and as let for cattle.
Having decided to switch to sheep, she sought advice from butchers and sheep breeders.



There are times when you are in a five-acre field with horizontal rain and wind, hanging onto your hat and trying to hoick a ewe out of a ditch, when you think why am I doing this!



I wanted an unimproved rare breed something that has not been crossed with any other breed to make it more prolific, milky or faster fattening. I wanted something that made a good carcass, something that didnt run to fat and was low in cholesterol. Some rare breeds are lovely, but you end up with an end product thats like a skinned rabbit, she says.
Manx Loaghtans ticked all the boxes.
If you are going to put all that hard work, attention to detail and passion into it, you want something that is terrific at the end of it and I know thats what Ive got, she says, adding: Its also a beautiful looking sheep, which is a happy coincidence.
Manx Loaghtans are a small, primitive sheep originating in the prehistoric short-tailed breeds that grazed north-west Europe in the Iron Age.
As its name suggests, they were plentiful in the Isle of Man (loaghtan derives from the Manx word for the brown colour of the sheeps fleece), but by the 1950s, the breed was in serious decline.
Farmers like Jane are helping to save it from extinction.
She started off with 15 sheep in 1998 and gradually built up the flock, which now runs to around 400. Her son Will was at Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester at the time which, she says, was a bonus because it gave her access to his books and essays. We also registered with the Soil Association and I went on about 15 courses from lamb finishing to butchery, including sausage making, thinking if I am going to rear an amazing product, I have got to know it end to end. You get an in-depth knowledge, which you can build on with experience. It means I can have a conversation with my butcher and know what you can get out of a lamb carcass and how its done.
The decision to register with the Soil Association and rear the sheep organically from the outset was all part of the ethos of producing something that was chemical-free, she says. When I sell my lamb, I can safely say that what you are eating is something that is totally pure.



When I sell my lamb, I can safely say that what you are eating is something that is totally pure



Jane took home her first award from the Soil Associations National Organic Food Awards in 2001 (so thrilling) and her lamb and mutton have notched up another 11 of the prestigious awards in the intervening years, gaining fans like Rick Stein, restaurateur Mark Hix and comedian and food writer Hardeep Singh Kohli along the way.
She is blessed, she tells me, with fabulous grazing for her animals.
Sheep taste of what they eat, she says. We have brilliant ancient pasture that goes back to the Enclosures Act. Its wonderful diversity of grasses and flowers gives them their unique Langley Chase flavour.
Manx Loaghtans are prized as much for the fleece and sheepskins as for their dark, gamey meat.
Little goes to waste, she says. Its a compliment to the animal that we use everything that can be used. It makes it worthwhile for that animal to give its life, which sounds dramatic, but I just dont want to waste any part of a wonderful product. I even have somebody who makes walking sticks using the horns.



"Sheep taste of what they eat we have brilliant, ancient pasture



As well as producing delicious lamb, she also has a mutton flock which, she says, is also a winner on flavour.
This breed produces fantastic mutton. It doesnt run to fat, it just gets better and better the sort of thing wed all love to be able to say, she laughs.
Jane ships boxes of mutton and lamb, fresh and frozen, all over the country via mail order and is happy to advise on appropriate cuts and joints for any occasion. The farms shop also sells a range of burgers, sausages and two types of mutton salami.
Last year, she provided the lamb for the wedding breakfasts for twin daughters Abigail and Felicity, and this year she will do the same when son Will marries in the summer. It is, she says, a huge responsibility.
Ive just been looking at grass today thinking I must move the ones for the wedding onto finishing pasture so we get a wonderful flavour!



Langley Chase Organic Farm, Kington Langley. www.langleychase.co.uk, 01249 750095

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