The Hampshire Down Sheep Breeders’ Association, Scottish Club pulled out all the stops in their organisation of the Associations first ever National AGM north of the border.
The business side of proceedings began on the Friday evening with over 100 members attending the AGM with President David Middleditch in the Chair, and the positions of Vice-President and Secretary both filled by Scottish members Roy McFarlane and Janet Hill.
Janet reported a healthy growth with 64 new members, 313 Flocks, 202 registered Stock Rams, 1998 Ewe Lamb registrations and Birth Notifications over 4000 – all figures a significant increase on last year.
Accepting that the breed is not seen as one of the ‘fashionable’ terminal sires, Kevin McCarthy Chair of the PR and Marketing Committee spoke of the strengths that should be promoted; not only the ability to finish quickly off grass – an all-important consideration in the times of Brexit and reduced European Subsidy, but the good grades the breed is achieving – typically Hampshire Downs are finishing with U3L and R3L grades 20 days earlier than other cross-bred lambs. We have the product, and we now need to promote and get testimonials from the large commercial farms achieving better margins and technical efficiency by using the Hampshire Down. Comments from the floor highlighted the starting point should be educating and convincing the end-user, ie the buyers for the supermarkets, and the butchers, and producers should be turning out animals for the ring with good shape and tight skins.
Next year will be important for the breed with the publication of the Ram Compare project, in which indications have been good and expectations high on how the Hampshire Down has been performing. The Council are aware of the opportunities available for promoting these good-news stories and encourage breeders too to pursue breeder-to-breeder marketing through Facebook, Twitter and the web. The launch of the new website this year has been a huge tool in promoting the breed and it is the intention to use it as a platform to feature more commercial pictures and success stories.
The hospitality and entertainment centered around the Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club where delegates from across the UK and Europe were staying. On Saturday morning all loaded onto the coaches for a morning visit to Vice-President and Scottish Club Chairman Roy McFarlane and his wife Sheena and daughter Lorna’s Lecropt flock at Bridge of Allen, one of the oldest established flocks north of the border.
From there it was south again to the home of the Brand family for lunch and an opportunity to view the award winning East Fortune Flock. Although they didn’t know it at the time, they were in fact to take the UK Flock Of The Year Award at the Gala Dinner later that evening.
The afternoon tour concluded with a Scottish flourish at Gilmerton House where the coaches turned the corner to the sounds of the pipes and a full-blown pipe band and whisky welcome.
Saturday’s gala dinner was a celebration of success with guest speaker Jimmy Warnock MBE delivering a hilarious string of farming related stories, before conducting the auction and handing over to the Annual Prize-Giving ceremony.
More than half of the delegates stayed on for a further farm visit to Kilbucho Farm, Biggar where Chris Blyth uses the Hampshire Down to produce a cross-bred half and threequarter breeding ewe, and as a terminal sire of choice.
On Sunday afternoon 40 members crossed the sea to Bute for a final fling at Plan Farm where they could witness a totally different farming system from the central and east coast farms seen so far over the weekend. Plan Farm is an extensively managed 1600 acre hill unit running Lleyn ewes and Luing cows on an outdoor foraging system. The Hampshire Down fits in here as the terminal sire on the Lleyn ewes and the pure Hampshire Down December lambing flock is set to expand to target the early lamb trade and pedigree market.
With such a packed weekend, there was so much to take away from each of the four farm visits using the Hampshire Down in entirely different ways and for entirely different end-objectives. From the very top-end show sheep, to ram production for the commercial market, to the farmer using the females to produce a commercial ewe, and finally to the use of recorded stock to produce finished lamb on a grass-based system.
Next year, we all meet again, for what will prove to be another unique occasion when we head to Newmarket where the racehorses may well prove to be as big an appeal as the Hampshire Down Sheep.