I have a flock of 45 Portland sheep.They are a rare breed of native British sheep, originating on the Isle of Portland, by Weymouth in Dorset. Many native breeds of sheep, cattle, pigs, goats and horses almost disappeared by the 1960’s. Some did. The RSBT, the Rare Breed Survival Trust, was founded in 1973 with the sole purpose of saving these breeds for future generations. It was through the dedication of many farmers that these rare breeds are doing better, but, as the commercial value of rare breeds is not great there is always a worry.
As people get more ‘foodie’ our breeds are finding a niche market. They really do taste better, the meat has more flavour, welfare standards are high, and that matters to many. Celebrity chefs also help promote our breed. James Martin visited one of our breeders for his programme, Home Comforts.
I didn’t want sheep. We have our fold of Highland cattle, and that was enough for me. I took a Smallholders course at Kingston Maurwood College which convinced me I was correct. Sheep are very complicated lawn mowers, they escape, they get lots of diseases, they die. Husband thought they’d be great for keeping grass under control in our fields, as they eat the grass differently than cattle and it would be good for maintenance.
We went to a couple of Agriculture Summer Shows and looked at various breeds. Dan wanted Dorset Downs. I still didn’t want any sheep. He then met some Portland breeders who were friendly and helpful. So in April 2012 we found ourselves the owners of 3 ewes and two very little lambs.
I then took a dedicated Sheep Course at Kingston Maurwood College. Because I knew in my heart of hearts that I would be the one taking care of these little darlings I never wanted.
So I find myself three years later, with 3 rams, 2 of which I have reared, 16 lambs and 16 ewes, 8 shearlings, and 2 wethers. I have had three lambing seasons, I have taken some to slaughter and sold the meat. I have learned to cook cheap cuts of lamb, which are very delicious! And I love MY sheep.
Jo Stover has daily adventures on her small farm, together with her Highland cattle and Portland sheep, bees, a few hens, dogs, and some two-legged family and friends.