This week I spent the afternoon with Emma and her two flocks of sheep. Emma keeps both commercial and pedigree Beltex sheep which she runs separately on her family farm in Coltishall. With the help of her 11 month old sheep dog, Tink, Emma runs her sheep enterprise single handedly with an emphasis on homebred, grass reared lambs which are then sold on at local farmers markets. It was really interesting to meet such a young farmer who has already found an outlet at local markets for her product which is selling successfully, with all her stock selling out at last weeks farmers market!
Emma with some of her commercial mule ewe's with Beltex cross lambs.
How long have you been interested in sheep and how did you become so involved with them?
I had always wanted sheep and kept asking my Dad if I could have some lambs but on a particular day in March 2014 he said ‘yes!’. I started with five orphan lambs, I then sold the two male lambs to a local vendor and kept the three ewe lambs for breeding. This was the beginning my commercial flock. I bought cross beltex ewes and a beltex cross tup and I liked the lambs and this was when I decided I liked the breed. I then went on to buy three pedigree Beltex shearlings and two ewe lambs in 2017. As well running my pedigree flock of Beltex which MV accredited, I run separate commercial flock alongside.
Why did you choose the Beltex breed?
I was first attracted to the Beltex because of their conformation and pretty heads. As well as this they are popular for the meat trade with their muscle conformation, producing lean meat which grades well. They do take a little longer to finish but there is more taste in the meat for the customer. I have found that using a Beltex tup on my commercial flock has been successful and produce better shaped lambs. The Beltex ewe produces a small lamb, which is strong and fast growing, they have good maternal instinct and make extremely good mothers.
A few of Emma's Beltex from her 'St. Theobalds' flock.
How many Beltex sheep do you now have in your flock?
In my Beltex flock In total I have 6 ewes, 5 ewe lambs and 2 ram lambs, 2 tups and 10 shearlings to breed with this year. In my commercial flock I have 80 ewes, 4 tups and 170 lambs (I have already sold quite a few of the early lambs).
What do you plan to do with this year’s lambs; will you be selling them on or retaining some for breeding stock?
I will keep all my Beltex ewe lambs to go to the tup in september 2019, I plan to sell the ram lambs as shearlings for other flocks. With my commercial lambs, I sell them all to a combination of local butchers and private customers as meat boxes. I started doing farmers markets in August 2017, I was approached by Hickling Farmers Market who were interested in having home reared lamb. Since then I have started attending more farmers markets including Stalham and Aldborough. Farmers Markets has been a great place for me to promote my stock and the home reared lamb I produce and has lead to a lot of repeat custom.
Emma with some of her 2018 Beltex lambs.
You have recently sheared your sheep, why is this important to do at this time of year?
I started to shear in February but this was purely just for my show shearlings, so that by the time the agricultural shows come about their fleece has come back. Otherwise I shear in May and this is important to prevent them from getting fly strike in the warmer weather. When a sheep sweats they can’t release the heat through their wool this is when the flies start hanging around and lay their eggs in the fleece, which turns into maggots which then begins to eat the sheep alive. This is a big problem with sheep in the Summer months and the main reason we have to shear them.
You show your Beltex sheep, what do you look for in a prize-winning Beltex?
When I am looking for a good animal I want good muscle conformation, an animal that stands nice and square and walks well, an animal that catches your eye with presence in the field. Straight back and good width between the loin. Specific traits within a Beltex you would definitely want is a small head.
What is involved in your show preparation?
To start my show preparation I have to halter train the sheep so I know that the can walk and get in and out of the ring with out too much embarrassment! When they are in the ring they are shown off the halter so you want to be able to catch them reasonably easily. Bathing is the main preparation to get the grease out their fleece and also trim their fleece so that they look shapely and well presented.
Why do you feel showing is important for you and your sheep?
I feel showing is important as it is a chance to show my stock off to potential buyers, especially as I am hoping to sell my ram lambs onto breeders. It is also a chance to promote my meat as people get the chance to see the animals I am producing.
Emma with one of her Beltex's which she is taking to the Norfolk Show.
What advice would you give someone looking to get sheep?
Have patience, they can make you very stressed! Sheep are idol, they always want to do the opposite of what you want. You have got to love sheep! If you want to get into them on a larger scale get a dog as this will make your life easier.
Tink, Emma's 11 month old sheepdog.
What are your plans for your flock over the next few years?
I hope to expand my pedigree Beltex flock to 100 and to be able to take my stock to the larger sales to help promote my flock (St.Theobalds) and get my name out there. With my commercials I plan to get up to 500 breeding ewes, continuing to cross them with Beltex tups and continue to sell the meat both to butchers, markets and farmers markets.
A big thank you to Emma for taking the time to show me around her farm and telling me all about her sheep!
I am Izzi, farmer’s daughter and textile designer at IzziRainey. If I am not designing or sewing you will find me out in the farmyard with my cattle. I am constantly seeking inspiration for my prints, not that I have to look very far. Growing up on the farm, I have always been influenced by my surroundings and this combined with my passion for farming is what inspires my designs. I love spending time on the farm but I also enjoy learning about other people’s animals, passions and stories, which are also influential to my design process. I hope you enjoy reading ‘Over the Farm Gate’