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Farming the Manx Loaghtan sheep
Manx Loaghtan Sheep
The breed has evolved to adapt to the challenging Manx conditions

George Steriopulos has been farming Loaghtan Sheep for more than 25 years and says it is a privilege to work with such incredible creatures.

"Until the 18th Century the Manx hills were home to thousands of 'primitive breed' mountain sheep, including the Manx Loaghtan.

"By the 1950's however, the breed which is unique to the Island was close to extinction, with under a hundred left.

"Nowadays, we consider farming Manx Loaghtan Sheep to be a privilege."

'Very distinctive'

The Loaghtan is a very distinctive breed, which has evolved to adapt to the challenging Manx weather conditions.

"The first time I noticed the Loaghtan sheep was at the mart at St. Johns, where I was shopping for store lambs.

No one seemed to understand that, in order to save this proud breed, they would have to be eaten, it is the only way and the essence of farming
George Steriopulos

"My attention was captured by their powerful horns and unique golden brown wool.

"I used to wonder what was wrong with them because they were being sold for next to nothing.

"The answer was simple, as a primitive species, they take longer to reach maturity than modern hybrids.

"In other words, they do not conform to modern marketing standards.

'Symbolic of Mann'

"I came to see the Manx Loaghtan as symbolic of Mann.

"It is unique to the Isle of Man and has brushed with extinction several times. It is such a majestic creature and I decided to take on the challenge of preserving them for future generations.

Manx Loaghtan Sheep
The meat has a very unique and surprisingly intense flavour

"I decided that the extra time needed in developing the breed numbers would be well worth the investment, if the result would re-establish the Loaghtan back into the Manx countryside and onto its restaurant menus."

George's wife Diana shares his passion for the Loaghtan and has been a huge help in this success story.

"At times it has felt like quite a crusade, but Diana and I share the same passion and we now are seeing our efforts beginning to pay off.

"We started buying all the Loaghtan's we could get our hands on, much to the amusement of other local farmers.

"At the time no one seemed to understand that, in order to save this proud breed, they would have to be eaten, it is the only way, the essence of farming.

It has been an interesting journey developing the numbers for meat to a viable level.

Manx Loaghtan Sheep
In the 1950's the Loaghtan breed was close to extinction

The meat that we sell is aged between 15 and 18 months, which is still adolescent in Loaghtan terms.

'Surprisingly intense flavour'

"The meat has a very unique and surprisingly intense flavour, with a dark colour, it is finely grained and fashionably low in both fat and cholesterol.

"Joints are relatively small but this is compensated for by the meat to bone ratio, which is excellent.

"We have the animals grazing on South Barrule, and they certainly add something special to their environment.

"They move like thoroughbred horses and are extremely photogenic.

"Their diet is very important to the final quality of the meat.

"From late autumn onwards, ordinary commercial sheep are fed on processed sheep feed.

"We however only feed the Loaghtan's on locally grown whole grain, as they digest their food much more slowly.

Manx Loaghtan Sheep
The wool is very popular around the the World, especially in Japan

"This, and the natural herbs and wild grasses on which they graze, really comes out in the fantastic full and complex flavour.

"It was a real struggle to get permission from Tynwald to market our meat, but at last in 2002 the bill was passed.

"We immediately formed the Manx Loaghtan Marketing Co-Operative to oversee the protection of origin and breed in marketing.

"In 2002 and 2006 we were invited to attend the prestigious 'Salone Del Gusto' in Turin, where we met contacts all over Europe.

"The feedback we received was superb. Delegates and exhibitors alike could see how the combination of the natural Manx environment, the care and time we invest in the animals and the quality of their diet all reflects in the meat.

"We also market the wool and sell it both processed and unprocessed, mainly to Japan.

Manx Loaghtan
In 2008, the Manx Loaghtan was awarded the prestigious PDO

"With the way things are going, the future is looking good for the Manx Loaghtan and we are proud to be a part of it. It truly is a magnificent breed."

On April 22, 2008, George and Diana's hard work was recognised when Manx Loaghtan Lamb became the Isle of Man's first recipient of the prestigious PDO European Union quality stamp.

PDO stands for Protected Designated Origin, and is awarded only to the finest regional food produce in Europe.

The Isle of Man Manx Loaghtan Lamb now sits proudly along side such names as Parma Ham and Champagne which is testament to one man's vision and a lot of hard work.




SEE ALSO
Manx sheep to revive countryside
21 Jan 09 |  Isle of Man
Manx Loaghtan lamb EU protected
24 Apr 08 |  Isle of Man

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