Last week I got the chance to have a quick catch up with my friend, Zara with her Southdown and Texel Mule sheep. This is an extremely busy time of the year for Zara so I was very grateful that she could take the time to show me her latest lambs and tell me a little more about her sheep. As well as having her own sheep, Zara contract lambs at this time of year, often covering the night shifts. Then when the shearing season arrives she will be out and about contract shearing for whoever requires her. Never a dull moment with Zara!
Twin Southdown lambs with their mother keeping a close eye.
How long have you been interested in sheep and how did you become so involved with them?
I always loved being outside, around animals. From an early age I knew I would either work with animals or in sport…. animals it was. My family always had sheep, enjoyed working with the sheep and the partnership with the dog, there’s always something new to learn and a challenge to overcome.
Zara with the expectant Ewes, both Southdown and Textel Mules.
What made you choose Southdown sheep?
They are easy to handle, very good meat and good wool which excellent for knitting as it has a short staple which is converted into a light arran wool which makes a very warm soft garment, perfect for the British winters!!!!
What you looking for in a good Southdown Sheep?
Good conformation, alertness, wool needs to be fine and dense, even in colour. Bright in the eye, good mouth and must not be lame!
The Southdown wool makes excellent knitting wool.
What you do with the wool?
Once I’ve sheared them, we send the Southdown wool off to The Natural Fibre Company, Launceston, Cornwall to get made into knitting wool which we sell at local craft markets across North Norfolk, or from our home address. We have a small team of Knitters that make anything from socks, gloves, hats, scarfs and jumpers. For the house the wool is made into pillows and throws for the sofas making it extra cosy in front of the fire during the winter months, it’s a rewarding feeling to know that the produce has come from the animals you have breed on your own farm and is being used in its natural form.
The rest of the wool is sent to the British Wool Board where it is graded and depending on its quality is either used for carpets, loft insulation, packaging and many other useful products, all being environmentally friendly.
This is a cushion and throw, created from Zara's Southdown wool and made by her mother, Ann.
Cecily wearing a couple of jumpers handmade my Zara's amazingly clever mother, Ann. The Southdown wool creates a light arran wool which makes a very warm soft garment. Zara and her mother sell their clothing and homeware and products at local fairs.
You also have Texel Mules, what made you choose these?
The Texel Mule is a commercial breed, it’s a North Country Mule crossed a Texel Tup. They are good strong ewes, don’t need as much food pre-lambing, plenty of milk, strong maternal instinct and the lambs are fast growers.
A Texel Mule Ewe.
You are in the middle of lambing as we speak, how come you are lambing your flock later?
Usually... apart from this year! It is warmer and the grass is starting to grow, the lambs get more of a kick start from the better weather. The ewes milk well and keep their condition up on the fresh new grass. As I don’t have much barn space it also means I don’t have to worry about the bad weather taking its toll on the sheep.
How many lambs are you hoping to have by the end of the years lambing.
Always try to get the best from the flock as I can, be happy with 1.8% upwards.
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 back the best ewe lambs for the flock, the rest will be sold on in the meat trade.
A Texel Mule ewe with her twin lambs.
Do you find the Southdown’s easy to lamb or do you have to help out a lot?
We don't tend to have too many problems for lambing they are easy lambers most of the time. They’re very good mothers, they look after the lambs very well and a majority of the time the lambs will get up and suck, but sometimes they need some help finding their way onto the ewe’s teats. The lambs are born with a very thin coat so on very cold days or nights they tend to need a bit more attention, but soon pick up and grow very well, makes a good carcass.
A Southdown ewe with her twin lambs.
How many dogs do you have? How important are the dogs to your work?
I have 3 dogs, Doug being my right-hand man, He’s the main man really, he is a strong dog, listens, works well on the sheep, makes my work a lot easier with a good dog and they make good company as well. Doug gets the sheep where I want them, so I can’t complain. When I contract out, lambing, shearing, etc its good to have a dog you know that will be well behaved and quiet and do the job.
Zara with her three dogs Doug, Sky and Fern. Doug is her 'right hand man'.
What’s your favourite thing about owning sheep?
Seeing them do well, that all the hard work, time and money you have put into them has paid off, going to the field and being proud of what you have got.
What advice would you give someone looking to get sheep?
Sheep can look like it’s a walk in the park, they are very enjoyable and rewarding at times, but you need to know what you are doing, so do your research. If you can, get some experience with them, make sure you are well equipped and have good fencing as they will find the smallest of holes and escape but not be able to find their way back! Make sure you have time for them… helps if you know someone who already has sheep. Let the fun begin!
One of my favourite quotes…. Piss poor preparation leads to piss poor performance!
I would like to say the biggest thank you to Zara for taking part in this blog. I know she has been up most nights for many weeks now and will continue to do so in the weeks to come, until lambing finishes. I just wanted to take the opportunity to share Zara's story and her work, she is so talented in everything that she does and I really admire her skill and determination. I am really excited to get back in the studio with all the photographs I have taken, especially of the dogs as this will be the first dog print I have done. Watch this space!
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’