Last week I went to visit Sophie and her Middlewood flock of Hampshire Down sheep. I was especially looking forward to this blog because Sophie had arranged it so that I could visit on the day that she was scanning her ewes. I have never actually seen a ewe being scanned for lambs (lots and lots of cows, yes, but never sheep!) so it was a learning experience for me too. I absolutely loved it and it was also an opportunity to witness first hand, Sophie working closely with her sheep. It was a fantastic morning and much as I expected, a family team effort, with Fiancé, Matthew and daughter, Harriet on hand to help out. They were making sure the ewes were in the right place for scanner, Ben. I have known Sophie for many years and I am really excited to share her story as she begins to rebuild and grow her flock of Middlewood Hampshire Downs. Sophie is one of the most passionate people you could meet and it was a pleasure to spend the morning watching her work.
Sophie taking her ewes back to their field after being scanned.
How long have you been involved in farming?
I’ve been around farming since I was a little girl but working in the farming sector since 2009.
What first attracted you to industry?
I’ve always had a great love of the outdoors from a very young age. I had ponies from the age of 2 so I was always outside. When I was younger we lived on a farm in Kettlestone where my dad was a farm mechanic. I have many pictures of me bottle feeding lambs or riding in a tractor. I went to agricultural college to study horses at school leaving age. As time went on life changed and so did adult responsibility. I sold my horse and my father bought me two dairy calves for my 21st birthday which I reared and then sold on. I also started working on a straw based pig finishing unit where we finished just under 2000 pigs on a high welfare system. We also reared calves on contract which I loved. This is where the love of sheep also started; I stared helping a brother and sister team with their Border Leicester sheep with lambing, at shows and so on. This then started me looking into other breeds, the Hampshire Downs caught my eye with their fluffy heads and velvet black nose, they were a winner for me. With easy lambing and they finish off grass, so I invested in 3 beautiful ewe lambs and the rest is history. I lambed them in my garage so I could hear them out of the bedroom window (I do have pictures for evidence ha-ha!).
Sophie with one of her Hampshire Down ewes.
How do you find being a young women involved in agriculture?
I’m not going to lie I do find it tough. I find it very lonely sometimes especially winter with shorter days. Being mostly male dominated you have to gain the respect and prove you can do as good a job as them. Men are known for their banter so you have got to have a strong back bone and brush it off or if you’re like me just give it back to them tenfold! I’m lucky enough to have worked alongside some fantastic farmers that have been flexible with working, as having two young children under 5 has it challenges. I’m quite an emotional person so I always cry if I lose a lamb or calf. I find nowadays there are more women in the farming sector as they have a more maternal side when it comes to livestock. I think our qualities as women In agriculture actually helps the tough males open up about problems (well slightly). Being a mum in agriculture has some very rewarding moments and some not so, but if you can juggle husband, boyfriend, partner, children and grab some you time you’re on to a winner. My fiancé and I work with each other all the time a we are one hell of a team when we are together yes we argue but we come as package and I’m very lucky.
Sophie and her three year old daughter, Harriet, who adores the sheep and clearly shares the same passion for Hampshire Downs as her Mother.
How long have you had your Hampshire Down flock?
I’ve had my current Hampshire’s since July 2018 so just over a year, which was gifted to me from a very good friend. I’ve been involved in Hampshire’s since 2010 when I purchased my first 3 ewe lambs. Sadly I lost my last original hamp ewe in august of this year.
What first attracted you to the Hampshire Down breed?
It was their presence, with their velvet black ears and noses and wooly heads, they have a stubborn characteristics which I actually really like, it gives something about them. They lamb with ease and they are quick to get up and suckle. They are very hardy. They don’t need any supplementary apart from laming time. They have ad lib hay all winter when grass is in short supply. Just an all round great sheep.
What is the history of the breed ?
The Hampshire breed was started about 150 years ago. The Hampshire Down was born from the cross of three different breeds, Wiltshire Horn, Berkshire knot and the Southdown. Over the last 50 year the Hampshire has been developed as a terminal sire
The ewe's waiting patiently to be scanned.
How many Hampshire’s do you have in your flock?
We currently have 11 breeding ewes, 2 breeding rams, 1 ram lamb and 1 ewe lamb.
What future plans do you have for your flock?
Over the next 3-5 years we would like to build up to 100 breeding ewes. Keeping hopefully all ewe lambs as breeding females, either to go to the showing flock or to the pedigree commercial flock. The showing flock will be made up of the best I can produce to sell on to other breeders. These will all be kept MV Accredited. We will hope fully build up our lamb boxes with our pedigree Hampshire lamb.
As a native breed, are they still suited today commercial market?
Yes. The commercial market is changing. Farmers seem to want lower input but still get output from the lambs. This is where the Hampshire Down as a breed comes into its own. It’s a terminal sire which means it’s a ram that provides the genetics to optimise lamb growth, convert feed efficiency and lamb carcass quality. Cross bred lambs finish of mother’s milk and grass from 14 weeks of age. The Hampshire cross lambs and pure lambs are quick to get up and suckle moments from being born. Strong, hardy lambs which gives them the best start. We start lambing in December so the weather is not always the best and they cope so well in the hardest of conditions.
The ewe's running out to grass.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to become involved with farming and sheep in particular?
My advice would be think about what aspect interests you and go with that. Don’t just go into anything because if you’re not dedicated you will most likely fail (been there and learnt the hard way!) I chose sheep because I’m passionate about my breeding and genetics. Producing a ram that will go on to produce cracking fat lambs for the commercial farmer or producing high quality show stock (early stages on both but that’s the plan) you must have the drive to want to be up at all hours. Endure the wonderful weather we have here on the British isle. Be willing to learn and adapted to different systems. Drive and stubbornness not to give up is one thing, I’ve learnt more over the past 5 years as things don’t always go to plan and things change. Always talk to an experienced shepherd or shepherdess to gain as much knowledge as you can, you may not like everything you come across but experience is a wonderful thing. But most of all love, love, love what you do as farming can be so rewarding.
These are a few of the pictures that I took while Ben, the scanner was in action. Sophie, Matthew and Harriet waiting tentatively for the results. It was so interesting to watch and it was very exciting as Sophie is expecting 16 lambs from December onwards.
I would like to say a BIG thank you to Sophie and her family for introducing me to their Middlewood flock of Hampshire Down sheep. I spent a fantastic morning with them all and if you would like to find out more then follow them on Instagram @middlewoodhampshire.
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’