26 October 2001

Romneys dont need horns to do well in the uplands

Can sheep without horns

thrive on the hill? One Romney

sheep enthusiast, who has

established a flock on the

Lakeland fells, says they

can. Jeremy Hunt reports

THE versatility and hardiness of Romney sheep – a breed originating in the Kent marshes – is being proven in the Lake District where a flock is running on fell land rising to 210m (700ft).

Carol Fletcher has been keeping a flock of Romneys in Lakeland for 13 years. Their success in this unlikely environment has been a revelation to neighbouring Ambleside fell farmers running Swaledales and Herdwicks, she says.

"I expect they thought I was mad bringing Romneys here, but when producers stop and tell you how well your sheep are doing, it is praise indeed," says Mrs Fletcher, president of the Romney Sheep Breeders Society.

The breed has raised a few eyebrows among traditional hill producers in Cumbria. But those familiar with the Romneys history will not be surprised at its ability to cope with the tough conditions of the northern fells.

"The sun never sets on the Romney sheep," says Mrs Fletcher, quoting the breeds promotional slogan. This was devised to highlight the fact that Romney sheep have been exported to 54 countries since the breed society was established in 1895.

She began keeping Romneys nearly 25 years ago when she farmed near Rye, East Sussex. Having lectured in textiles, it was their heavy fleeces of high quality wool that fired her initial interest.

Her Methersham pedigree flock was built up to 100 ewes. It was successful in the show ring and supplied breeding stock to fulfil export orders for Romneys in the Azores.

But, almost 13 years ago, new business commitments in the Lake District saw Mrs Fletcher and her husband Michael head north, and the sheep came too. The flock swapped the kinder climes of the south coast and soon found themselves snow-bound on a Lake District fellside.

"We rented a block of land on the fell and managed to get a tonne of hay up there just before a heavy snowfall. But the ewes coped amazingly well. They trampled the snow into a sort of igloo area and survived on hay for a month," says Mrs Fletcher.

To cut the workload, the flock has now been reduced to 40 ewes and grazes a block of steep in-bye land at about 210m (700ft). "People just do not believe how hardy Romneys are. When it rains the hill sheep are often up against the walls, while the Romneys are still grazing."

She believes the Romneys docile nature, ease of shepherding and ability to tolerate tight stocking on brown grass pasture are qualities that should be more widely appreciated by hill and lowland producers.

"The breed has good bone, a heavy fleece and a strong constitution. It is easily lambed and has certainly proved it can thrive on a Lakeland fellside where Swaledale and Herdwicks graze on the other side of the stone wall.

"It is not going to replace hill breeds in the north and Romney ewes wont attract the hill ewe premium, but there is scope for producers to run at least a proportion of their flock as Romneys.

"As a commercial ewe put to a terminal sire to produce top quality prime lambs, the Romney has a great deal to offer. Lambs out of the Romney by Suffolk and Texel rams are fast growing and would give hill farmers a useful income from the prime market early in the season."

Romney sheep have proven that they can thrive in harsh fell conditions, says Carol Fletcher.

ROMNEY TRAITS

&#8226 Keep grazing in rain.

&#8226 Prime crossbred lambs.

&#8226 Heavy fleece.