The Accidental Smallholder Forum

Community => Introduce yourself => Topic started by: Bill up the hill on November 30, 2021, 01:31:31 pm

Title: The smallholding sweetshop!
Post by: Bill up the hill on November 30, 2021, 01:31:31 pm
Hi,
  after many years of wanting a few sheep I've finally bought a smallholding on the Cheshire/Peak District border which came with 4 "pet" sheep (& a rather run down farmhouse). I'm planning on building up a small flock of upland rare breeds, although have yet to decide on what - it's a bit like a sweetshop with too much choice! Herdwicks have always been a firm favourite, having tramped a lot of fells where they do so well, but why be limited to just one breed, unless you're looking to build up a pedigree flock. The animal husbandry is a steep learning curve (hence joining this forum, hoping to get a few pointers), although I'm used to doing the more practical aspects of fencing/drainage etc. Really loving it & enjoying many happy hours in all weather getting hands on with the animals & land. :excited:
Cheers Bill
Title: Re: The smallholding sweetshop!
Post by: SallyintNorth on December 01, 2021, 11:28:47 am
I can appreciate the appeal of a mixed flock, but if you are wanting rare breeds to help the breed, what would be the point?  Would you have loads of tups so you could breed each pure?  That's quite a cost and management overhead...  :thinking:  Or if the sheep are just lawnmowers / fleece sheep, then yes by all means, buying a few wethers of a few different breeds will help the breeders, and no reason to not have a selection of breeds appropriate to the terrain. 

Herdwicks originate from the Lake District, so although they are used to a lot of rainfall, their feet are maybe a bit more suited to hard rocky slopes than unrelenting sogginess.  Most of the northern wet moorland type ground seems to carry mostly Swaledales, which are fabulous, adaptable sheep - but are not rare.  Similarly Scottish and Northern England type Blackfaces.

There are other listed rare breeds which would maybe suit the soggy ground, but not all sheep's feet cope well with being wet all the time.

Good feet for wet ground, my mind leaps to Exmoor Horns.  They are not a listed rare breed (yet :( ) but they are not widespread outside their home area, so a more northerly flock would give some protection from losing the breed to a localised problem in the SW.

Other contenders which are listed rare breeds might include Derbyshire Gritstone, possibly Whitefaced Woodland : there are folks on here have those, so hopefully can comment about the feet and their suitability or otherwise to the ground.  I had two local friends with Llanwenogs in North Cumbria, so their feet must suit wet ground.

If you wanted to go very rare / primitive, I think Boreray or North Ronalsday might be worth a look.  Manx Loaghtan too.  Hebrideans seem to be happy pretty much anywhere :), @Fleecewife can tell you more about them.   (Not rare though, same with Shetlands.)

Would you make use of the fleeces?  Handspinners :spin: are not so keen on Herdwick, too harsh!  (Although dyed Herdwick is awesome for weaving for rugs, bags, etc.)   Exmoor Horn isn't exactly sought after, either.  Boreray is rare so has a value, although it's not actually very nice to spin or use.  Derbyshire Gritstone and Whitefaced Woodland can both be lovely for handspinning and dyeing, Llanwenog is fabulous, North Ronaldsay is a double fleece so takes a lot of work but is interesting because of the colours... 
Title: Re: The smallholding sweetshop!
Post by: Fleecewife on December 01, 2021, 11:57:12 am
Hello Bill up the Hill and welcome to TAS.  I thought from your header that we were going to learn of a novel farm diversification idea  ;D

You don't say what your land is like or how many acres you have.  Typically, the kind of land in your area might not support many sheep to the acre.  Sally has given you a very helpful rundown of sheep's foot preferences and believe me, that is an extremely important factor in your decision.  A friend of mine had a smallholding in an area which fits your description of Cheshire/Peak District border - it was on very sloping ground so not boggy, and had plenty of rocky bits for foot care.  She went for Soays and Borerays which suited the land fine. In other parts of the same area you could find quite rich grassland, or wet and boggy, so have a good look at your ground before making a commitment to a particular breed.  You can often judge the nature of the land by the kinds of wild plants that grow there, as well as digging sample holes and assessing the soil that way. The nature of your soil will determine the nature of the grazing you can provide. All grass is not equal!
My advice is to do your research and take a while to make up your mind. Check out your soil, local climate ie local to your holding, and visit flocks and rare breeds shows, taking time with an open mind to speak to owners.   
Sweety shops are so tempting to buy one of everything.  Remember you could go for a breed such as Shetland, which has a wide range of colour choices and the benefits of being small and having good fleece, which can be used or sold. It sounds as if you haven't decided whether you want to breed a pedigree flock or keep wethers as pets.  Of course you could 'try out' a few breeds as wethers, then eat them once you decide what you actually want to do with your sheep pastures.
Title: Re: The smallholding sweetshop!
Post by: Backinwellies on December 03, 2021, 07:38:00 am
Totally agree with Sally ...... pedigree breeding requires rams of all breeds .....  much easier to focus on one.   Or keep lots of pets of different breeds (wethers not ewes)
Have fun