History of Teeswater Sheep
Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD, bringing with them a large long wool breed of sheep. Over centuries these sheep developed into slightly different types of sheep. They were named mainly from the area in which they had developed, i.e Cotswolds, Lincoln, Leicester & Devon Long wools and presumably the Teeswater. Originally they all would have had a white face. As the poorer land further up the valleys was grazed by sheep, the Teeswater was used in these dales for crossing purposes. The rams were put to the smaller hill sheep. This produced cross bred sheep suitable for fat lamb production on the more fertile land. Some farmers referred to them as “Mug Tups” because of their facial color.
There are records of Teeswaters being exported to Tasmania in the early 1800’s. Also around this time Robert Bakewell started a breeding program to develop and enhance the quality of the local Leicester Long wool sheep. In the 1840’s some Teeswater females were crossed with a Dishley Leicester Long wool ram called Blue Cap. The offspring were the origins of the Wensleydale breed. Eventually the Wensleydale breed became more popular and the Teeswater declined until by the 1920’s the breed was nearly extinct.
“Upon the rich lowlands bordering the river Tees in the east of England there was originally bred a tall, clumsy sheep, without horns, and with white face and legs. Their bones were small compared with those of other large breeds, but supported a thicker, firmer, and heavier body than its size would indicate; wide upon the back, somewhat round in the barrel, and yielding a heavier carcass than any other sheep, but proportionally longer in growing to perfection; the meat, however, finer grained than could be expected from such an animal.
The wool of the old Teeswater was remarkably long, rough, and heavy, yet so loosely was it set upon the skin that the fleece seldom weighed more than 9 lbs. The ewes were very prolific, commonly bearing twins, sometimes three at a birth, and cases are recorded where a single animal brought forth 16 lambs in four years.
These sheep prospered most in small flocks, in pastures with cattle.” (Special report on the history and present condition of the sheep industry of the United States. Salmon, D.E. 1892)
Introduction of Teeswater sheep to North America
British Teeswaters were exported to North America in the 1800s. “They were bred to some extent about 1808 to 1815, in Burlington County, New Jersey, and in the vicinity of Philadelphia, and attained a high degree of excellence and popularity, and traces of them lingered for many years afterward, until the New Leicester and the Southdown completely superseded and supplanted them.” (Special report on the history and present condition of the sheep industry of the United States. Salmon, D.E. 1892)
Special report on the history and present condition of the sheep industry of the United States
Publication date 1892 by D.E. Salmon
Pages 91 & 92 below
The Breed has struggled to get established in North America. Knowing that the Teeswater fell out of favor two hundred years ago, it is the mission of the ATSA to move the breed forward here in the United States, and not risk losing them yet again to other breeds.
In 1996 Teeswater semen was imported into the US and records were kept by dedicated breeders who began using Teeswater semen in 1997. The ATSA Registry was started in 2007 and continues to register white Teeswater sheep in North America. As of 2018 the first flock of Teeswater sheep has been exported from Oregon to Canada.
Establishing a purebred population in North America has been journey with struggles. In short there has been limited semen availability due to outbreaks in various zoonotic diseases in Europe and an extremely difficult USDA importation protocol. Despite all of these difficulties, as of 2018/2019 there are Teeswaters on North American soil that are registered within the UK Flockbook. As a result of using similar long wool breeds as a basis to breed up Teeswater sheep color was a potential outcome of these mating's.
The ATSA did track color in a separate registry until 2020. An assessment of the Teeswater population revealed that there were no colored lambs registered in the last few years. The UK does not recognize colored offspring and has stated that they are not born to purebred Teeswater sheep in the UK population. It is still potentially possible to have colored offspring in the US population as it is a recessive gene and our foundation genetics are still in the genome. The membership voted not to accept any colored offspring as of May 2020.
Preface of the UK Teeswater Flockbook Vol. 1 by Thomas Addison
“The breed was at one time in some danger of becoming extinct. Fortunately a few farmers in the Tees Valley kept the breed alive and distinct for the purpose of breeding Rams for crossing with hill ewes. During the past 20 years the value of these rams for crossing purposes has become better known and it is now appreciated for breeding half bred lambs that have no equal. I am satisfied that for crossing purposes with Swaledale, Scotch, Black-faced, Dalesbred, Lonks and Herdwicks, they are pre-eminent. This is borne out by the high prices realized half bred-gimmers at Auction Marts in Yorkshire, Durham, Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire. They are a hardy breed and prolific good mothers. Black lambs have been all but eliminated. Total number of members in the first Flock Book – 185.”
“Chief of the Bureau of Animal Industry,” Dr. D.E. Salmon. This volume meticulously recorded the “history of the first sheep introduced into the infant colonies, their characteristics, and their improvement,…” through and including the system of “breeding pedigreed flocks and the management pursued of wide and varied experience…”
The American Teeswater Sheep Association
The ATSA is one of two associations in the United States known to register Teeswater Sheep. The ATSA was founded in 2007, and its registry contains the foundation registrations of Teeswater Sheep bred from 1997 thru 2013, until the formation of the Teeswater Sheep Society of North America. Since the split in the associations, separate records are kept by both associations. While the TSSNA currently recognizes ATSA pedigrees, the ATSA will examine each applicant for transfer/registration from any other North American Registry. TSSNA registered animals can be registered on a case by case basis with the ATSA providing they meet or exceed specific ATSA registration requirements.
In May 2020 the Livestock Conservancy listed the Teeswater sheep on the Critically Endangered list.