The Stokehill Flock
Our fields are grazed by a flock of high quality registered Shetland sheep. We keep the flock size small, at around 45 sheep, so that we can move them around the fields to fresh grass and still be able to shut some fields off while we grow a crop of hay for the winter.
We chose Shetland sheep because they are small and therefore relatively easy to handle, they are hardy, have good feet and make fantastic mothers. They also come in a great range of colours!
We breed from selected ewes each year, depending on how many lambs we hope to produce. Shetland sheep usually have twins and they bond immediately with their lambs. For the first time ever, in 2015 we had to bottle feed one lamb, because he was born overnight in a pen and he managed to escape before his mother has realised that she had produced two lambs rather than one! We had to bottle-feed him, which was very time-consuming but also very rewarding - as a one off experience! He is especially tame and so very useful when we need to move the flock, so this is one chap who will not be leaving the farm!
We bring the ewes into the barn each night during the lambing period to protect any lambs born overnight from fox attacks but the sheep spend the days out at grass, often lambing outside. The new mothers are brought into the barn with their lambs each night until they are two weeks old, as Shetland lambs are very small and still vulnerable to foxes.
Shetland sheep are very hardy, but they do appreciate shelter from harsh weather and shade from the heat of the summer sun. We have plenty of sheltering trees and hedges, but our sheep also always have access to a barn or field shelter, which they take advantage of very frequently!
We sell some ewes as breeding sheep when they are a year old, usually after they have been shorn for the first time (at this stage in their lives, they are known as 'shearlings').
We do not raise our male lambs as entire rams to sell for breeding, as it is impossible to tell how high quality they will be as rams until they are much older and we do not want a large number of rams on our farm. We keep them as wethers (castrated rams) and, so far, those we have sold have been used as companions to rams or for a period of conservation grazing prior to slaughter. Shetland sheep are ideal for conservation grazing as, due to their small size, they do less damage to sensitive habitats than larger sheep.
We have two rams, Draywood Reuben and Hillend Yorick, who we keep in fields as far away as possible from our ewes, so that we don't have any unexpected lambs outside the breeding season!