Having tried our hand at looking after some generic “farm sheep” that we adopted from a local farmer, we decided to try a rare breed. After some investigation decided that the Dorset Downs were the ladies for us. With their striking good looks, placid and friendly temperament, and great parenting skills, they were our perfect choice. So we set about looking for a breeder to help us.
At the Berkshire Country Show in Newbury we met up with John and Jill Swain who were mid getting a few rosette’s at the time. What a lovely couple! From the very first moment we met they couldn’t have been any more helpful. Since our first meeting Jill has held our hand and led us gently into the world of the Dorset Down and through our first lambing season. Always there with helpful hints, advice and tips. She has become our Shepherding guru. With the help of Jill and John we came through unscathed and more importantly so did our sheep.
So if you’re wondering about which sheep, I wholeheartedly recommend the Dorset Downs, and should you decide to go that route, I can definitely say that there’s nobody better than Jill and John to support you!
Good luck and happy shepherding!
(Mark and Penny Eagle)
A History of the Four Jays Dorset Down Flock
John and Jill Swain moved from the bright lights of Bristol some years ago, to a typical Somerset cottage in a small village near Weston-Super-Mare. The cottage did not have electricity or a bathroom but it did have 3 acres with a rhyne bisecting it. For 3 years they lived in 2 caravans in the middle of the field, with only a beach donkey for company, but he had to be returned to work.
What to do with the field?
Eventually we decided on pedigree sheep in the hope that many would go for breeding. We went to the Bath and West Show and sought the advice of the then Meat Research Institute. They suggested Dorset Down Sheep as being docile and happy in small paddocks and a prime terminal sire. We walked past hundreds of sheep and found the Dorset Downs and fell in love. They were like a Thelwell sheep, lovely brown faces and round cuddly bodies, looking like proper traditional sheep. Even more impressive, a Dorset Down was judged supreme champion at the Show. Little did we dream that in the future we would breed our own supreme champions.
Over the years we have managed to buy more land around us, ending up with over 40 acres; one field costing more than the original cottage! This meant we could increase the size of our flock.
We thought we would initially try buying off-farm and this is what I would recommend to prospective buyers. This allows you to see the sheep in it’s environment and meet the seller. My pedigree sheep are my friends and are usually relaxed around strangers. I always say ″Let the sheep choose you!″
Our initial flock consisted of 8 hopefully pregnant ewes and a ram lamb from a Somerset farmer, along with 8 ewes from Berwick-upon-Tweed. They were all broken-mouth, i.e. older ewes but with careful handling went on for many years.