This small, attractive, primitive, hardy, heath land breed of sheep has browsed the rough scrub growing on the limestone outcrop of Portland in Dorset for centuries and is linked to the Wessex tan-faced group of sheep. It is likely that the wild tanned sheep from central Europe migrated north as the ice retreated following the last ice age, and the isolation of the Isle of Portland protected the breed from early genetic engineering. The Doomsday Book records show that in 1299 there were nine hundred sheep on the Isle of Portland.
Portland’s are relatively small. The body is of a primitive type within the Downs breeds, with good width between the legs. The tail is long and set well up on the rump. The legs are fine boned with an even tan colour.The front legs and hind legs below the hock should be free from wool. The hooves should be uniformly dark, small and straight.
An ideal sheep for small holders producing high quality meat, luxurious wool...can be grazed as a denser population per acre than modern commercial breeds.
The face is a tan colour, but may have lighter areas around the eyes (the spectacles look) and muzzle with a dark nose. The horns are light coloured with those of the ram being heavily spiralled and ewes' curve through a half circle. There is often a black line in one or both horns.
The Portland can lamb at any time of year, but usually produces a single lamb, occasionally twins. Lambs are born with a foxy red coat which changes, in the first few months, to creamy white. Portland ewes are good milky mothers and are very protective of their off spring.