Origin & History

Ryelands are a white-faced, polled (no horns), small to medium sized, down – type breed whose antecedents were developed by monks at Leominster in the rye growing district of Herefordshire, England, in the 15th Century.

Here the hardy constitution of the breed was formed and its wool growing ability came to the fore (unsurpassed in Britain until the arrival of the Merino).

The Ryeland breed first came to New Zealand in 1903 and later to Australia. Initially a dual purpose sheep, the breed was, in latter years, used mainly as a terminal sire. However stud breeders have not relinquished the desired wool type and the breed is eligible to enter the special wool breed classes at the Royal Show.

There has been a recent upsurge in interest in the Ryeland as a breed ideally suited for small farmers who want the truly all-purpose type of sheep; not too big to handle safely, docile, fertile, thrifty, and capable of providing both fine wool for hand-spinning and high quality meat for the table.

The Ryeland fills this role admirably, while still having the necessary attributes of a good terminal sire suited to breeding well fleshed, lengthy, commercial cross-bred lambs.

Ryeland Ewe and lamb © Graham Meadows Photography
Ryeland Ewe and lamb © Graham Meadows Photography
For Top Grading, Heavy, Well – Muscled Lambs

Why Use a Ryeland?

The docile natured Ryeland has the unique ability to withstand severe grazing conditions, comes through drought times in top form and tolerates higher stocking rates. These attributes mean they are very suitable for lifestyle blocks, however, as with all animals they do need some quality feed – not just to be forgotten in a back paddock.

The breed is favoured for the production of high quality wool, with ewes producing over 3kgs, which is of 26-32 microns diameter (56-58 count) and 75 -100mm in staple length. The wool is very dense with an absence of black fibres in the fleece. For those small farmers wanting sheep with good spinning fleeces and wool with good wearing quality the Ryelands again fill the bill!

The Ryeland’s outstanding virtue, when used as a crossing sire, is the ability to produce an excellent type of lamb with a long carcass and ideal muscling, particularly over the loins. These lambs are heavy and grade well and in most cases are ready for the butcher at weaning. Ryeland’s are very prepotent and will improve the even-ness of a line of lambs from ewes of differing type. The texture and flavour of Ryeland meat is very hard to beat. If you’re looking for the succulent roasts that you remember from childhood days try Ryeland products.

Ryeland ewes are good breeders and have great maternal instinct. The ewes are hardy and feed their lambs from an abundant milk supply. They enjoy having mineral lick available on demand to supplement those nutrients available from pasture. They will also help clean up ragwort if your paddock has a few plants, but will not thrive if kept solely on this weed.

If you enjoy having sheep that come when you call introduce your Ryelands to a handful of sheepnuts every now and again.

Some A & P shows have classes for Ryelands. Registered sheep are eligible to enter these classes. This is a good way to meet other breeders, learn about presentation and enjoy the comradeship.

Ryeland Ewes © Graham Meadows Photography
Ryeland Ewes © Graham Meadows Photography

Breed Classification

Medium-sized, stocky, with a broad straight back. Docile, easy to keep, and ideal for small farmers.

A meat breed. Rams are used as terminal sires for crossbreeding.

Location: They are found in both the North and the South Island.

Bodyweight Wool

Ewes: 55-60 kg (121-132 lb)

Rams: 73-80 kg (161-176 lb)

Short Down type. Comparatively fine, with dense staple, soft handle and good springiness. Practically no kemps or black and grey fibres.

Fibre diameter: 26-32 microns.

Staple length: 75-100 mm (3-4 inches)

Fleece weight: Range 3-4 kg (6.6 -8.8 lb); Average 3.5 kg (7.7 lb).

Uses: Textiles (woven fabrics) requiring a smooth finish and good resilience; high quality tweeds and hosiery.


A meat breed


100-120 percent


About 500