The Swaledale breed is well suited to the exposed regions of the UK in which they are predominantly farmed. Swaledales are very hardy and able bodied. The ewes make excellent mothers and are known for being able to rear lambs well even in adverse conditions. They are of a medium build, with black faces marked with bright white around the nose and eyes. Males and females both grow curled horns. Their fleeces are thick and very coarse, giving the wool they produce, although durable and resilient, is worth very little. The sheep are also known for their tender and good-flavoured lamb and mutton.
Swaledales are related to the Scottish Blackface and Rough Fell sheep. Although the specific origins of the breed are largely unknown, like the blackface breed, swaledales are believed to have descended from the wild horned Argali sheep that inhabited central Asia in ancient times. Gradually spreading through Europe, they are thought to have been introduced to mainland Britain by the Danes around 800AD. The blackface and rough fell sheep breeds evolved from there probably by interbreeding with other native breeds.
The Swaledale Sheep Breeders Association was founded in 1919 and originally consisted of farmers living within a seven-mile radius of the Tan Hill Inn, on the North Yorkshire moors. The association is an active organisation point for Swaledale sales, shows, breeding, and products in the UK
The principal function of the breed is to utilise the hill and mountain grazing to its best advantage, producing store lambs which are suitable for short or long keep, finishing off lowland grass, rape, turnips or off meal when housed.
Of equal importance the swaledale produces a reservoir of females which are drafted to marginal or upland farms either as ewe lambs or five or six-year-old ewes, where they are crossed with a Blue faced Leicester to produce the North of England Mule Ewe. When crossed with a terminal lowland ram, the swaledale ewe produces a quality prime lamb, or a store lamb for finishing.
The swaledale breed is known for is hardiness and is well adapted to graze on upland habitats such as heaths and bogs, they are also found grazing sand dune systems and salt marshes. They prefer an open habitat where they can easily move around and selectively graze on different wildflowers and grasses.
No known Breed Society in Ireland.