Holstein cows create a sheep enterprise

This is Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Chloe Patterson (25) in this week’s episode of Farmer Focus. The marketing manager discusses her farming roots and her passion for Dutch Spotted and Blue Texel Sheep, which she shares with her husband.

“I’m originally from Shrewsbury, Shropshire and I farm with my husband Andrew (29) from Antrim, Northern Ireland.

We now live in Malvern, Worcestershire and are both from dairy farming backgrounds with no sheep farming experience.

Andrew is the fourth generation of family run Ballyginniff farm. I spent my early childhood years at Lane Farm, the home of Shropshire Holsteins until the family farming partnership split up.

Andrew has always been involved in farming and my interest in the field was sparked by showing calves for the famous Styche Holsteins herd after moving away from the farm to join Young Holstein Breeders.

We both work full time off the farm; Andrew is a full-time herd manager and I am marketing manager for World Wide Sires UK (a dairy and beef genetics company) whilst also running my own independent agricultural marketing company, Moo Marketing, which I set up in 2018.

We have a handful of purebred Holstein cattle and a small herd of purebred Australian Lowline Cattle on Andrew’s home farm in Northern Ireland along with mother Fiona Ballyginniff Lowlines.

Dutch Spotted and Blue Texel sheepdog

But here at Malvern we run a True View flock of Dutch Spotted and Blue Texel sheep.

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We chose the Dutch spotted breed primarily because of our passion for black and white Holstein cows.

We saw these black and white sheep at the 2017 Royal Welsh Show and had to investigate.

After the show we approached a handful of breeders and purchased a lamb buyer carrying twins from the 2018 Royal Welsh Show male and female champions.

Since then, we have been hooked on the breed’s temperament, growth rate, vitality and maternal instincts.

Blue Texels is a new venture that we are really enjoying so far. The ewe we’re really excited about is Hackney Fancy, a Royal Highland Show Champion 2020 daughter of the popular Hackney Beth (£10k), which we bought in the summer of 2022.

We slowly grew the herd by buying a pair at each community sale and selling the offspring to get our name out there.

We now have 20 breeding ewes to lamb indoors from January as it fits our system and the dairy farm calendar for Andrew’s off-farm employment.

Breeding program and characteristics

We use CIDR software and AI with sweeper rams to make the pups as compact as possible.

We aim to register only those we see that are of breed characteristics and quality. As land is limited, we sell about 50% of the offspring and keep the rest.

We also focus on strength, femininity, great legs and feet with show style. In our opinion, overall approval is superior to height and we aim to breed compact, tight-skinned sheep.

Due to our work commitments, sheep work is a great opportunity for us to spend time together and work as a team to create a future with the business we started together in 2018.

The sheep world has been and still is a learning curve. However, since joining two breed societies, the Dutch Spotted Society and the Blue Texel Sheep Society, we have met many sheep breeders, some of whom have now become great friends and allies.

We have grown both showing dairy cattle and plan to show our sheep in 2023, now that we have both increased numbers and feel we have something potentially competitive.

Genetics

Genetics is the area we are most interested in because it is the foundation of your herd’s future.

When farming on such a small scale, we feel that genetics offers a USP to our business.

Since we cannot take advantage of economies of scale, we need to build the marketability of our livestock and make them attractive to our potential customers.

In a short space of time we consider the first prize winning mutton sold at Worcester Livestock Market for 2500gns to be one of our most important achievements to date.

As an aspiring or novice sheep farmer, don’t hesitate to ask questions; remember why you were given two ears and one mouth.

Women in agriculture

I am treated the same as my male counterparts and feel that women in agriculture are getting the recognition they deserve at the farm and industry level.

Farmers help community groups and, for newcomers, Ladies Who Lamb Facebook the group has been a place where I can get ideas, information and feedback.

Every time I visit the page, I feel a renewed energy and make changes and changes to improve the health, productivity and day-to-day management of our herd.

Health is wealth and being outdoors with animals that depend on you is fantastic. Sheep 9-5 provides a welcome break from the screen.

I have an office/farm balance; however, there are the stresses and strains of my husband working a 4am to 6pm day job on a dairy farm; sheep are a hobby.

Elite herd and meat boxes

Our goal is to breed an elite flock of Pedigree Blue Texels and Dutch Spotted Sheep.

We also have plans to circulate meat boxes from ram lambs that we do not see breeding potential for.

Five years later, we see breeding herds in their current numbers and producing high-quality genetic show animals.

For us, sheep farming is 50% of our income from the sale of progeny, but as flock size and feed costs increase, our hobby is viable at the moment, but our main goal is to farm ourselves.

We wouldn’t change a thing; we love to learn, adapt, face challenges and meet new people, especially now that we have entered the sheep sector.

The future of agriculture is bright. If we can continue to raise awareness, we will move forward with our high quality products and get fair prices for the quality product we produce.

Do you breed sheep? Email to share your story – [email protected]

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