Dorset Horn and Poll Dorset Sheep Breeder's Association

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May Sheep Fair 2012 - Report


A virtual clearance and increased averages from a record entry emphasised the demand for both breeders’ and commercial Dorset sheep at the annual May Fair at Exeter Livestock Centre on behalf of the Poll Dorset Horn Sheep Breeders’ Association on Wednesday May 9.

A top price of 4,200gns - one of five rams topping 2,500gns and more - went to Northern Ireland breeders William and Karen Carson, achieving the Downkillybegs flock’s best price yet in 33 years, selling to Poll Dorset chairman David Rossiter for his Huish flock at Burton, Galmpton, Kingsbridge, Devon.

The event, the largest sale in the country of early lambing ewes, attracted 3,000 ewes and rams, marking the first pedigree sheep sale run by Kivells and Husseys since taking over the Exeter centre in early April this year. Rams averaged £902, more than £200 up on the 2011 average of £693.

The flexibility of the Poll Dorset has brought renewed interest in the breed with breeders from across the country who had previously switched from the traditional sheep to continentals returning to this year’s May Fair to buy, according to David Rossiter.

“There has been demand for both rams and females from breeders who previously had Dorsets and are now returning to the breed, recognising the ease of breeding and carcase quality,” said Mr Rossiter.

“The Dorset allows you to do what you want with your enterprise because of their ability to lamb at any time of the year. The texture and succulence of the finished Dorset lamb is endorsed by the Waitrose Dorset Breed Lamb Group which can’t get enough of a committed, consistent supply for the supermarket,” he added.

Auctioneer Simon Alford said "it was obvious from the inaugural sale run by the auction company’s that the Dorset breed was ‘in good hands’ with breeders doing the job well and very keen."

“The rams made a great average of just over £900 with very few unsold. That was taking into consideration an increased entry and 100gns more on the upset price of 350gns,” he said.

“There was a great spread of buyers. Irish breeders had a big influence on the sale by bringing a lot of the entries, but they also took a lot of the bloodlines back with them,” he added.

The leading priced ram, the September-2011 born Downkillybegs Strongbow, was first in the pair of lambs for the Carsons of Downkillybegs, Ballymena, Co Antrim, judged by Roger Brown the previous day with Downkillybegs Stetson which made 1,400gns.

Both are by Oliver Tree Nik Nak a son of Downkillybegs Hercules and they carry the extra muscling Myomax gene and Strongbow had a muscle depth of 40.9mm at 21 weeks old.

“The ram carries the gene for the complete meat package and that coupled with very correct genetics and the figures to back it up made me determined to have him,” said Mr Rossiter. “The muscling has been displayed back through his sire’s pedigree.”

The ram will be used in Mr Rossiter’s Huish flock of just over 400 pedigree ewes which was the breed’s champion flock in 2011. Run alongside a pedigree Suffolk flock, it supplies early lamb to the Waitrose scheme.

The show’s overall champion was a horned September born shearling from Northern Ireland breeder Ben Lamb of Lime Tree Farm, Richhill, Co Armagh.

Richhill Peter, judged the show’s overall champion by David Thomas, was sold for 3,400gns to Ross May who runs commercial Polled and horned Dorsets in the Exe Valley seven miles north of Exeter.

“He is a good, stretchy ram which I felt was ideal to replenish our horned flock,” said Mr May, a regular purchaser at the May Fair. “We like to buy a decent ram. The ram’s sire Turnavedog is by Richhill Fergie and his dam line is by Poorton Hero.

It was only the third ram through the pedigree ring that made the joint top price of 3,000gns for Northern Ireland breeder and auctioneer Raymond Hill from his Oliver Tree flock at Doagh, Ballyclare, Co Antrim, run with brother David as a hobby.

The sale of Oliver Tree Springsteen to relatively new breeder Nick Burrington marked the flock’s best price yet in the decade since it was founded.

“The ram is out of the D4 family which has bred very well for me and I’m very pleased he has sold to another breeder,” said Mr Hill.The ram is by Downkillybegs Landmark out of Oliver Tree N8.

The ram was the most expensive purchase to date for Mr Burrington who established his flock five years ago at North Covert Farm, Oxton, Kenton, Exeter and now runs 120 pedigree females alongside commercial beef cattle

“We have fancied purchasing from Oliver Tree for several years and the D4 family is one of the finest,” said Mr Burrington, who will be judging the Dorset Premier show and sale in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, in July, and won last year’s Royal Welsh breed championship and group of three award.

It was a ram bred in the Dorset sheep’s heartland that matched the 3,000gns price tag and a flock best for father and son, Richard and Robert Hole, of Hill Street Farm, Holwell, Sherborne, Dorset.

The sale marked the 25th May Fair for the family. Robert’s grandfather Bunny Lenthall was the first importer of Polled Dorsets from Australia to the UK in 1956.

They run 430 pedigree ewes in their Sherborne flock and they have put the ram’s dam back to the same sire, Sherborne Lewisham.

The lamb ram Sherborne Storm had won the Centurion Ram of the Year having topped the Signet recording figures with a maternal index of 292 and a terminal sire index of 376, putting it well within the top 1% for the breed.

However it was the muscle score of 3.21 initially picked up in the sale catalogue details and then seeing the ram in the flesh that encouraged Brian Muncaster and Cathryn Pritt to bid to 3,000gns for the ram for their Thornbank flock based at Gosforth in Cumbria.

After discovering the attributes of the breed when running commercial Dorsets alongside other crossbred ewes, the pedigree Dorset flock was founded in 2004.

Ewes lamb in September-October and January and March and their flexibility fits in with the grass-based system they use for the farm’s herd of 150 commercial Friesian cattle. Keen to promote the breed, Cathryn is a committee member of the recently formed Northern Dorset Breeders’ Club.

Also among the leading prices and notching up an average of £1,214 for seven rams sold was Thomas Wright, of Ballytaggart, Kilraughts, Ballymoney, Co Antrim, whose top priced lamb Ballytaggart Sapphire, made 2,500gns to breeders Les and Heather French, of Launceston, Cornwall.

The correctness of the ram, one of the first crop by Downkillybegs Nitehawk, encouraged Mr French to make the only stock sire purchase of the year for his long-established 120 ewe flock.

Averages: ewe lambs to £493.50, average £159.63; ewe hoggs to £345.00, average £169.07; rams to £4,410, average £902.78.

Leading ram prices:

  • Downkillybegs Strongbow 4,200gns to S&W Carson, Whitesides Road, Downkillybegs, Ballymena, Co Antrim;
  • Richhill Peter 3,400gns B Lamb, Lime Tree Farm, Richhill, Co Armagh;
  • Oliver Tree Springsteen 3,000gns R Hill, The Old Manse, Kilbride Road, Doagh, Ballyclare, Co Antrim;
  • Sherborne Storm 3,000gns R Hole, Hill Street Farm, Holwell, Sherborne, Dorset;
  • Ballytaggart Sapphire 2,500gns TW Wright, Killraughts Road, Ballytaggart, Kilraughts, Ballymoney, Co Antrim;
  • Sandelford Scolari, 2,050gns G Henderson, Old Mill Cottage, Priestland Road, Bushmills, Co Antrim;
  • Poorton Passion 2,000gns, Fooks Brothers, Manor Farm, North Poorton, Bridport, Dorset;
  • 2,000gns Sherborne Striker R Hole, Hill Street Farm, Blackhill Simba 1,700gns JB Dufosee, Farnicombe Farm, Upper Scudamore, Warminster, Wiltshire;
  • Ballytaggart Spitfire 1,550, TG Wright, Kilraughts.