Favourite Breed

Dav­ina Stan­hope tells Deb­bie Kings­ley about her Cotswold sheep

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

Dav­ina Stan­hope’s Cotswolds

Dav­ina Stan­hope is a busy woman. The cur­rent chair­man of the Cotswold Sheep So­ci­ety is a full­time farmer, with just un­der 100 acres of per­ma­nent grass­land in Shrop­shire un­der her ju­ris­dic­tion. She keeps Red Devon cat­tle and three breeds of Longwool sheep — Cotswold be­ing the main breed. She even shears them her­self.

“I must ad­mit this is done over sev­eral days,” laughs the lady whose other Long­wools are the Le­ices­ter and the Teeswa­ter.

Dav­ina ex­pects her live­stock to give her good re­turns. “I find it eas­ier to keep one type of sheep as the man­age­ment sys­tem is all the same,” says Dav­ina, re­fer­ring to the Longwool. “Our tra­di­tional breeds are more suited to sur­viv­ing here and they utilise what grass and herbage is avail­able far bet­ter than the com­mer­cial breeds.”

The ma­jor­ity of Dav­ina’s ground is light, be­ing sand and rock, which burns off in the sum­mer leav­ing very lit­tle grass for the live­stock.

“It is what is called ‘au­tumn ground’,” she ex­plains. “And luck­ily as long as we get au­tumn rain, the grass sud­denly ap­pears just in time for flush­ing the ewes ready for the rams to go in.”

Thirty-five out of the 100 acres con­sists of pools and marsh­land, which boast a wealth of birds. On some days you can catch glimpses of oys­ter catch­ers and swans, goldfinches and lap­wings.

Dav­ina’s love of sheep goes back a long way. She be­gan with a com­mer­cial flock, but a visit to a London art gallery changed her life. She saw an old paint­ing of some large sheep with very long wool, lovely white faces and big kind eyes and from that mo­ment she was hooked.

“I en­deav­oured to find out what they were,” she says. “It turned out that they were Cotswold sheep and so it was good­bye com­mer­cial sheep and my love of the Cotswold be­gan.”

Dav­ina ac­quired her first two ewes in 1997 and shortly after that pur­chased three more: a ram lamb and a shear­ling ewe from the Cook­bury Flock and a shear­ling ewe from the Oakhill Flock.

“To this day you can still see the in­flu­ence that th­ese con­trib­uted to my flock,” she adds. Th­ese were fol­lowed by a few more pur­chases and the in­tro­duc­tion of her home-bred lambs. The flock has since grown ex­po­nen­tially and Dav­ina now has in the re­gion of 145 Cotswolds, 35 Le­ices­ter Long­wools and 35 Teeswa­ters.

“I also have 10 rams which have all been se­lected for their blood­lines and breed traits that hope­fully they will pass on,” she says. “It’s not all that easy to get to­tally un­re­lated rams and this year I used AI on some of my ewes. I also brought in four ewes not im­me­di­ately re­lated to mine in the hope that I might get a good ram lamb — it is too early to know yet. This year we lambed at 260%, helped by the Teeswa­ters which are very pro­lific.” Dav­ina finds Cotswold sheep big, but par­tic­u­larly docile. “They weigh up the sit­u­a­tion be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion and if run­ning away is nec­es­sary they will do it, but in most cases they would rather not. I find that I don’t need a sheep­dog as it is far less trou­ble to get them to fol­low a bucket, or, in my case, the quad bike as it might just have some food on it. In fact, I find that they have lit­tle re­spect for a sheep­dog, although I do have a rather un­usual cat who not only rides on the quad bike on the morn­ing rounds, but will sit in the gate­way and stop the sheep com­ing through. They are not keen on com­ing past him for some rea­son, es­pe­cially when he looks them straight in the eye. He will even scratch their noses if chal­lenged.” Cotswold sheep are hardy and Dav­ina found that they coped well with the dark and dif­fi­cult days of the 2017/18 win­ter. Only those that had lambed were in­side. “They are good on their feet and they keep their teeth much longer than any com­mer­cial breed,” says Dav­ina. “I have

a few old ladies of 10 years and over, all with their teeth in­tact. They are easy dur­ing lamb­ing and ex­cel­lent moth­ers and al­ways know how many lambs they have. If one is get­ting in­de­pen­dent and has gone ex­plor­ing you cer­tainly know about it. They also recog­nise their own older off­spring. I of­ten dis­cover a small group to­gether and gen­er­ally find that it is a ewe and her daugh­ter and grand­daugh­ters. They all have par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ters and man­ner­isms which they seem to pass to their off­spring. I have one old lady who was suc­cess­fully shown when younger, but she made you work for any suc­cess. All her daugh­ters are the same.”

Although, as their name would sug­gest, Cotswold sheep are gen­er­ally sit­u­ated in the Cotswolds, there are a grow­ing num­ber of flocks all over the coun­try, said to num­ber around 83, with ap­prox­i­mately 1,400 breed­ing ewes. They are a low­land sheep, de­spite liv­ing on the Cotswold Hills. Their fleece brought great wealth to the Cotswolds, the ear­li­est ref­er­ence be­ing around 1319 in the Great Char­ter of Llan­thony Pri­ory.

Cotswold wool, which is soft and has a lovely lus­tre, was ex­ported around the world and at one time ac­counted for al­most half of Eng­land’s to­tal in­come. Sadly, times have changed and the wool is no longer in great de­mand due to new tech­nol­ogy and man-made fi­bres, but there is a grow­ing in­ter­est from in­di­vid­u­als wish­ing to re­new old traditions and crafts.

“As they are such large sheep you ob­vi­ously get a big­ger car­case and the lambs take a while to get to the cor­rect fin­ish at be­tween 45-48kg,” ex­plains Dav­ina. “Ewe lambs will get to this weight more quickly than ram lambs. As with all rare and tra­di­tional breeds, the lambs take longer to fin­ish than com­mer­cial lambs, but this gives en­hanced flavour. Cotswold sheep also pro­duce very good mut­ton.”

Dav­ina sells meat and wool and gets re­peat busi­ness, which she feels is proof of a good prod­uct.

“Last year I took some lambs along to meet the pub­lic at a lo­cal su­per­mar­ket and it was good to hear peo­ple say­ing that they use a butcher to pur­chase their meat as it al­ways tastes bet­ter. The ma­jor­ity of my ram lambs are fat­tened and sold for meat, if not in boxes from home, at the lo­cal live­stock mar­ket, where they are usu­ally bought by the same buyer,” notes Dav­ina.

The full-time farmer is keen on show­ing her sheep and their fleece as it pro­vides a shop widow for the breed, “es­pe­cially if you can man­age to get into the in­ter­breed com­pe­ti­tions and even bet­ter be placed in them”, adds Dav­ina, who also judges Cotswolds and other breeds. “My hol­i­days are ei­ther days out at shows with my own sheep or days spent judg­ing other peo­ple’s.” For more in­for­ma­tion on the Cotswold Sheep So­ci­ety, visit: www.cotswold­sheep­so­ci­ety.co.uk/

I have a rather un­usual cat who not only rides on the quad bike on the morn­ing rounds, but will sit in the gate­way and stop the sheep com­ing through. They are not keen on com­ing past him, es­pe­cially when he looks them straight in the eye. He will scratch their noses if chal­lenged

Dav­ina (right) gen­er­ally spends her hol­i­days at shows

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.