It is feared that if there were any fewer Gritstones in the country, the sheep would fall into the category of rare breed.
Rob Evans, along with his sons Jake and Ollie, run a flock of 200 Derbyshire Gritstones over 28.3 hectares (70 acres) at Dale Cottage Farm, Wessington, Derbyshire, on the edge of the Peak District National Park.
Derbyshire Gritstones are a hardy breed with good wool and strong maternal qualities. The breed looks for a long black and white head free from wool, with ears of the same colours, positioned slightly forward.
Jake and Ollie have returned to the farm full-time after spending some eight years in London following university. Ollie was working as a freelance project manager and Jake in retail design and branding.
With a firm marketing base, they built a website and social media platform for the farm. It is through this website that Bavarian small-holder couple Joe and Marion Tetley found them.
Mr Tetley hales from the Peak District and wanted to bring a breed of sheep to the couple’s farm in Bavaria that reminded him of home. Through their online presence, Dale Cottage Farm was found and the Tetley’s paid them a visit to look at their sheep.
After four days of touring and picking through sheep, the couple decided on five ewes and a ram lamb to take with them to Germany.
Mr Tetley will be travelling to Derbyshire this week to collect the sheep himself.
Rob says: “It is the first export of the breed of its kind which we are aware of and, as far as we know, there are no other Gritstones in Germany.
“The red tape has been the biggest hurdle in this process though. We had to have the sheep scrapie tested to meet the strict German import regulations.”
Rob sits on the committee of the Derbyshire Gritstone Sheepbreeders Society and is one of six registrars of the breed.
He says: “The society registered about 100 rams last year. There is nowhere near as much interest in registering females.”
Not taking any lambs to slaughter weights, the Evans family sell their ewes as shearlings and males as wether stores in the autumn.
Rob says: “The Gritstone seems to be a slow maturing breed.
We put the tups in on November 1, to lamb at the start of April. We used to lamb earlier but I would rather do it when the days are longer and warmer. There’s more grass then and we can leave them to get on with it.
“Our lambing percentage is about 145 per cent and we lamb inside. We put about 40 ewes to each ram.”
Dale Cottage also runs a herd of Limousin cattle, with all progeny being sold through Bakewell Market as stores.
The farm breeds its own replacement females for the suckler herd.
Cattle are housed over winter and fed on hay. No concentrates are fed on the farm bar a little to the rams during the pre-tupping period.
With fresh ideas and experience in other industries, Jake and Ollie now wish to do things a bit differently at Dale Cottage Farm.
Ollie says: “We are looking into directly selling our brand of Dale Cottage Farm meat. We would like to sell our Derbyshire Gritstone lamb and mutton into restaurants, pubs and local butchers.
“We are also looking into selling direct to the public through social media and a street food venture that is currently in the pipeline. We feel we have a fantastic product and just want to cut out the middle man in our supply chain.”
Jake says: “Now Ollie and I are based back home on the farm working with Dad, we have got a blank canvas to get creative and do whatever we want, really.
“We hope we can bring the skills we have developed in other industries home and combine them with our passion for farming to develop and grow the family business.
“If it was not for our website we would not have attracted the Tetleys. Social media, love it or hate it, it is here to stay.”
The farm also breeds and trains Border Collies, selling them as pups or as semi-trained dogs.
Rob says: “All four of our bitches are either daughters or granddaughters of international champions.
“We have two litters a year and I keep two or three pups back each time to train. They’re all International Sheep Dog Society registered.
“I start training them at nine months old, they have to be able to out run the sheep first.”