24 July 2002

Our Norfolk Horn event

DURING one of the rare breaks in the busy work schedule at Easton Lodge Farm, farms manager John Lambkin and his wife Rosi took time out to host the

Norfolk Horn Breeders Group open day and annual meeting.

John first became involved with Norfolk Horn rare breed sheep 19 years ago when farmers weekly began operating a management contract with Spicers at Mill Farm, Sawston, Cambridge.

He purchased four shearling ewes from the Spicers flock in 1986. Now there are about 50 ewes at Easton Lodge which predominantly graze the 11ha (27 acres) of permanent pasture at the lower end of the farm known as Bonemill Hollows. This small preserved area of traditional limestone grassland was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest about 30 years ago.

farmers weekly Farms are eligible for a management grant from English Nature which, along with assistance in fencing, goes some way to defray the rent payable to our landlord Burghley Estate. The site is rich in both flora and fauna which can be protected only by selective grazing by sheep.

In return for the annual SSSI payment, we have to fulfill a strict management regime. Stocking rate is limited and no sprays or fertiliser can be applied. Hay can be conserved by agreement with English Nature but that must be cut as late as possible after mid-June to allow wild flowers to seed.

Performance of the Easton Lodge flock compares favourably with other members of the group. Progeny is either sold for breeding or marketed at a premium through local butchers. &#42

Members of the Norfolk Horn Breeders Group attending their AGM, held recently at Easton Lodge Farm, are seen here assessing the quality and breed characteristics of a bunch of Norfolk Horn shearlings. Card grading is always a topic for detailed discussion when this group of breeders get together, says John Lambkin. As well as breed characteristics, the sheep are assessed on fleece quality, potential carcass quality, and colour marking. Superior breeding animals receive a red card; breeding animals of average quality receive a blue card, while sheep falling below average receive a yellow card. The ewes in these pens all fell into the red and blue categories.

Chairman of the NHBG, Roderick Newton (left) discusses the days agenda with Easton Lodge farms manager John Lambkin. Both appreciate the importance of the day. That is because last years Rare Breeds Survival Trust Show and Sale due to be held at Stoneleigh was cancelled because of foot-and-mouth, and this years sale will not happen because of restrictions placed on the livestock industry by DEFRA.

The Norfolk Horn rams came under the close scrutiny of NHBG members. As with all pedigree livestock, sire selection is of paramount importance to ensure top quality breeding and carcass quality, says John Lambkin. The members agreed that it was always difficult to select rams from their own flock, acknowledging the importance of maintaining a mixed gene pool as well as the dominant breed characteristics as laid down by the breed group.

Top quality crooks: Norfolk Horn rams horn makes excellent shepherds crooks, agree John Lambkin (left) and Peter Harris pictured making full use of their support. Mr Harris runs the Bluemarsh Flock.

Sitting pretty: Time for a picnic lunch after a visit round the stock. Members of the Norfolk Horn Breeders Group enjoy a hearty picnic in the Bonemill Hollows, the SSSI site used by Easton Lodges Norfolk Horn flock.