Hampshire Down breeders, Matthew and Sally Osmond farm at Nether Wallop, near Stockbridge in Hampshire.
The Osmonds established the Hampshire Down flock in 1990 to provide a local supply of high quality Hampshire rams to commercial sheep farmers in the area. The flock started with six older ewes in lamb from the Shapwick Flock. Numbers have gradually risen since then by keeping high genetic merit home-bred replacements. They now have a pedigree flock of 40 Hampshire Down ewes.
Matthew has always liked the breed’s ability to producing quick-growing lambs off grass, which have good conformation. Given the right conditions, lambs can be ready to market off their mothers at 11 to 12 weeks of age.
He is keen to promote a deeper eye muscle and less fat within the flock and uses Muscle and Fat Depth Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) to identify animals that are superior for carcase traits of economic importance.
Lambing takes place in December so two rams run with the 40 ewes in July for six to eight weeks. The ewes are housed in poly-tunnels two weeks prior to lambing and stay there until conditions are right to turn out – usually mid-February on land high up on the Salisbury Plains.
The lambs are creep fed from birth, with the ewes on concentrates and hay. Weaning takes place at 16 weeks of age. Any not kept for replacements or for sale as pedigree stock are sent to slaughter, as most will have achieved their finished weight by then.
“I keep around ten ewe lambs as replacements, and ten ram lambs,” explains Matthew. “Some of these will be used as sires for my own flock, or I will offer them for sale as shearlings to local commercial producers.”
Recording Flock Performance
At present only 27% of Hampshire Down breeders record flock performance, including Matthew. He always keeps an eye on the figures when selecting stock for breeding, as well as looking for structurally sound animals with good length conformation and overall breed type.
“As a breed, Hampshire Downs are naturally easy-lambing and good mothers,” says Matthew. “They are very protective of their young and rarely reject a lamb. They also milk well which enables the good early growth.”
The Osmonds have a number of repeat customers with commercial enterprises, often buying rams to use on large Mule flocks for lambing in March and April. They find the customers keep coming back because the rams do well, producing lambs that finish quickly at good weights.
They generally sell direct from the farm, but also support some of the local shows and sales to increase the flock’s profile.
Performance recording the flock and using tools like Estimated Breeding Values has helped the Osmonds identify where improvements can be made in the future. They recognise that within the breed they are one of the lower indexed flocks, but that rapid progress has been achieved over the past two years with the purchase of two recorded rams.
Shane Conway – Signet