We have kept a pedigree flock of Hebridean Sheep on our smallholding for a few years, mainly for their ease of management. Added to which Hebridean Lamb has superb eating qualities, a succulent tender texture and unique game-like flavour.
However, about four years ago we took on a little extra land and as our 10 year old son wanted to turn his keen interest in farming into having his own flock and had his heart set on Southdowns. As a result we acquired our first shearlings.
The Southdown has proven to be an ideal choice as a starter flock for a young shepherd. Although a little more work than the Hebrideans at lambing time, they are easy to manage during the rest of the year, an important consideration for a ‘part-time’ farmer. They are quiet to handle and come to the bucket with little encouragement.
The Hebrideans being much more of a challenge when gathering for routine fly or worm treatment they put much greater pressure on both our fitness and good humour than the Southdowns which are much more malleable. Southdowns by comparison are an absolute pleasure to manage, added to which they are highly unlikely to vault a hurdle which is a much enjoyed past time of Hebrideans.
Southdown shearing is a bit of a challenge so most smallholders will definitely see this as a job for the professional contractor.
Our passion for our Southdown flock has only increased during the time we have had them. My son particularly enjoys showing his sheep, putting hours into preparing them. The Southdown is an ideal choice for any smallholder or young shepherd starting out on their farming career, a joy to work with and a pleasing sight in the field.
The choice of the Southdown has also proved a practical one as the ease of finishing attributes of the breed make it the ideal sire for crossing onto a primitive breed like the Hebridean.
Despite the undoubted culinary qualities of the Hebrideans, they are slow growing and have relatively low carcass weights. We are only on our second year of Southdown x Hebridean lambs, but the plan seems to be working as the carcass is about 3Kgs heavier while retaining all the flavour of the pure Hebridean. We plan next year to put most of the Hebrideans ewes to the Southdown ram while breeding only a few pure Hebrideans for replacement stock.