The history of the breed is lost in the mists of the past, but there are references to sheep which were probably the forerunners of the Scottish Blackface of today. Monastery Records of the twelveth century speak of the Dun or Blackface breed of sheep. The monks used this sheep’s wool for their clothes and also exported large amounts to Europe.
The breed has been described as of “fierce and hardy look”, and that description still applies today.
Husbandry of the Old Scottish Short wooled breeds was completely changed when the Scottish Blackface became more dominant around 1752. They quickly took over the Highlands where previously cattle ruled. At the same time rivalry between Cheviots and Scottish Blackface was intense. At first the Cheviot was preferred as its better wool found a ready market when Napoleonic Wars cut off imported Spanish wools.
Early attempts to improve the SBF breed with New Leicester type crosses were dropped in favor of natural environmental improvement, when it was realized that the SBF had the ability to survive & reproduce under the most adverse conditions and was therefore best suited to hill & mountain grazing.
Breeders of Blackface sheep in Northern England formed a Swaledale Sheep Breeders in 1920 because large numbers of SBF sheep from Scotland were being sold further south. This led to an accelerating trend of Swaledales being used in SBF flocks to increase milking performance. Today, there are about 2 ½ million Scottish Blackface and ½ million Swaledale in the UK.
The SBF represents about a third of the UK’s pure-bred stock and , commercially more important, contributes its genes to millions of cross-bred stock. Other similar breeds to SBF are the Lonk, Derbyshire Gritstone, Dalesbred, White Welsh Mountain, Dalesbred, and the Rough Fell. The Rough Fell is larger than the SBF or Swaledale, and has a closer, finer, heavier fleece that tends to get waterlogged in heavy rains. There are many similar regional breeds all over Northern England though none of these exist in North America.
In earlier years the Border Leicester was used as a crossing sire with SBF and North Country Cheviot (NCC) draft ewes. Later, Wensleydales and Teeswaters became associated with the Swaledale for crossing and this cross produced the ‘Masham’ crossbred. Today most draft ewes are crossed with the Bluefaced Leicester (BLF) to produce the Scotch or Cheviot Maternal Mule.
Today the Blackfaced Hill breeds are basic to the UK sheep industry. One hundred and fifty years ago their presence was hardly acknowledged by pedigree breeders who thought of them as the only ones able to survive in such dreary wasteland where they are found in Central and Northern Scotland.
This information is from the sbbu.org website.