Favourite Breed

Ca­role Youngs tells Debbie Kings­ley about the Hamp­shire Down sheep she keeps in France

Country Smallholding - - Contents - For more in­for­ma­tion: http://www.hamp­shire­down.org.uk/ http://small­hold­er­series.co.uk https://goo.gl/dYd0WR EUROP lamb clas­si­fi­ca­tion https://www.gov.uk/guid­ance/scrapie

Ca­role Youngs’ Hamp­shires

The fact that Ca­role Youngs keeps Hamp­shire Down sheep to­day is due to a very happy ac­ci­dent. “It was the re­sult of a friend of a friend need­ing to down­size their flock in 2006,” she ex­plains.

De­spite hav­ing com­pleted a course on sheep health at Hart­pury Col­lege some years pre­vi­ously, Ca­role con­fesses that she didn’t then know very much about spe­cific sheep breeds, and cer­tainly lit­tle about the Hamp­shire, with its fine dense white fleece and eye-catch­ing dark brown ears, face and legs. How­ever, the friend of a friend set the ball rolling for a com­plete change of life­style for Ca­role and her part­ner, Robin Smurth­waite.

They now live hap­pily in France where they run a thriv­ing com­mer­cial sheep busi­ness, the main­stay of which is — of course — their Hamp­shire Down flock.

The farm is si­t­u­ated in Li­mousin, the epi­cen­tre of French live­stock farm­ing. It com­prises 60ha of unim­proved grass­land with a fur­ther area of wood­land. By French stan­dards, it is a rel­a­tively small farm, but it is plenty big enough to make a home and a mod­est liv­ing for Ca­role and Robin, as well as their Hamp­shires, dogs and horses.

The cou­ple’s orig­i­nal flock, which they took on when they lived in 15 acres of “idyl­lic” Glouces­ter­shire coun­try­side (they re­lo­cated to France in 2015), con­sisted of 12 pedi­gree Hamp­shire Down ewes and a very large ram called Kinky.

“We named them the Gor­geous Flock, as this was how all our vis­i­tors de­scribed them,” smiles Ca­role, who plans the well re­spected The Small­holder Se­ries of DVDs which are pre­sented by Coun­try­file’s Adam Henson. “Ini­tially, the sheeps’ job on our small­hold­ing was two-fold: firstly, to keep our lovely fra­grant meadow grass under con­trol for our horses, who, if left on lush pas­ture, would have been at risk of devel­op­ing lamini­tis [a painful and po­ten­tially fa­tal con­di­tion that af­fects horses’ feet] and sec­ondly to help with the horses’ par­a­site con­trol.

Cross-graz­ing horses with ru­mi­nants re­duces the worm bur­den of both species by hoover­ing up the lar­vae of gut worms and break­ing the life cy­cle. The horses fol­low the sheep from pad­dock to pad­dock and, as par­a­sitic worms are host-spe­cific, the lar­vae of any horse worms are de­stroyed in the gut of sheep and vice versa. This is also an ideal regime for or­ganic, low in­put meat pro­duc­tion and, hav­ing tasted the suc­cu­lent and flavour­some Hamp­shire lamb, hogget and mut­ton, Ca­role re­alised it as some­thing spe­cial.

The Hamp­shire is par­tic­u­larly well suited to the pro­duc­tion of grass-fed meat due to the lambs’ abil­ity to grow quickly and achieve a fin­ished weight solely from their mother’s milk and good grass, with

lit­tle or no sup­ple­men­tary feed­ing. Lambs in the top-per­form­ing recorded flocks have the ge­netic abil­ity to achieve live-weight of around 42kg in lit­tle more than three or four months.

From an en­vi­ron­men­tal per­spec­tive, this is good news as it means that dur­ing their life­time, the lambs con­sume less in terms of feed­stuff and treat­ments, while, at the same time, they cre­ate less pol­lut­ing green­house gasses, such as car­bon diox­ide and meth­ane.

Ac­cord­ing to Ca­role, the prin­ci­ple pur­pose of the breed is to pro­vide ter­mi­nal sires — rams that, when mated to com­mer­cial ewes, will pass on their ben­e­fi­cial growth rates to their prog­eny (all of which are in­tended to go as meat rather than as re­place­ment breed­ing stock, hence ‘ter­mi­nal’).

“This is the rea­son we took our flock with us when we moved to France,” says Ca­role. “How­ever, be­fore the sheep could be signed off to travel, we had to wait for the re­sults of rig­or­ous blood tests to de­ter­mine their health sta­tus, specif­i­cally for their re­sis­tance to scrapie [an in­cur­able neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease]. Only sheep that tested as Group 1 (ARR/ARR), the group with the high­est re­sis­tance to the dis­ease, were al­lowed to travel with us and, thank­fully, all but two shear­ling ewes were cleared for ex­port on this count.”

Sheep ex­ported to France must also be cer­ti­fied as free of the presence of Maedi Visna (MV), a chronic res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease of ru­mi­nants. Ca­role’s flock, like many ter­mi­nal sire breeds, had been MV ac­cred­ited since she ac­quired them, but the ex­port for­mal­i­ties nev­er­the­less in­cluded their vet tak­ing blood sam­ples from all the sheep and pro­vid­ing in­di­vid­ual pass­ports cer­ti­fy­ing their dis­ease-free sta­tus.

On their ar­rival on the other side of the Chan­nel, Ca­role and Robin had soon ac­quired a fur­ther three flocks of lo­cal Bre­bis du Pays. “We would prob­a­bly call them ‘mules’ in the UK,” she says. That brought their to­tal pop­u­la­tion to 168 ewes.

So, why did they go to the not in­con­sid­er­able cost and ef­fort of ex­port­ing a small flock of English sheep all the way to the prin­ci­ple live­stock cen­tre of France?

“First and fore­most, our Hamp­shire Downs were a known quan­tity,” Ca­role ex­plains. “We knew their pedi­grees, their health sta­tus, their breed­ing his­tory and their tem­per­a­ments. Im­por­tantly, we have ex­pe­ri­ence of us­ing Hamp­shire Down rams as ter­mi­nal sires. When mated with com­mer­cial ewes they pass on their out­stand­ing growth rates and car­cass con­for­ma­tion to their cross­bred off­spring.”

For the com­mer­cial farmer, this means roomy ewes for easy lamb­ing, lambs that are lively and vig­or­ous at birth, those that boast nar­row heads and can lamb eas­ily, ex­cep­tional growth-rates (fin­ish­ing from eight weeks is pos­si­ble) and de­sir­able con­for­ma­tion.

Ca­role ad­mits that it was a rather au­da­cious de­ci­sion to ex­port sheep from the UK to Europe’s cen­tre of sheep pro­duc­tion, but they are glad that they did it, not least be­cause “our Hamp­shire Down flock has been win­ning the ad­mi­ra­tion of our French neigh­bours, in­clud­ing our vets and con­trac­tors, from shear­ers to fencers”.

Ca­role throws a lit­tle French into the equa­tion as a part­ing shot: “Ceux sont des bon bre­bis.” It means those are good sheep.

Ca­role Youngs orig­i­nally took 12 pedi­gree Hamp­shire ewes to France The Hamp­shire is the main­stay of Ca­role’s busi­ness Ca­role’s farm is lo­cated in Li­mousin

Ca­role is glad that she ex­ported sheep from the UK — even though it was a rather au­da­cious de­ci­sion

Ca­role’s sheep are ad­mired by her neigh­bours

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