For sheep farmer, Edward Adamson, the Dutch Spotted breed is adding value to his sheep flock through strong demand for lambs and breeding stock. Chris McCullough reports.
Being prolific mothers and producing excellent meat carcases are just two of the attributes a Northern Ireland sheep breeder is discovering about his Dutch Spotted flock.
Edward Adamson farms on the east coast of Northern Ireland at Kilroot, Carrickfergus, right beside Belfast Lough and the Irish Salt Mines.
After introducing a small number of sheep from Dutch Spotted sheep to his own flock, Mr Adamson has been met with strong demand for lambs and breeding stock from all over the world.
Having historically been a dairy and sheep farm, in 2005 Mr Adamson decided to quit milking cows and focus on the sheep.
He now runs a large sheep flock of more than 800 ewes, as well as 60 suckler cows, and is the Northern Ireland development officer for the National Sheep Association.
Mr Adamson’s flock consists of predominantly Lleyn ewes but he also has 50 Clun Forest ewes, 50 Ile de France ewes and 25 Dutch Spotted ewes in the mix.
He says: “I first saw Dutch Spotted sheep at the Royal Welsh Show and was very impressed by them, so much so that I decided to get some of my own.
“In 2018 I invested in three Dutch Spotted Sheep importing them from the Netherlands and then started to breed my own animals.”
“The breed is becoming very popular with small and larger sheep farmers alike”
Introducing a new breed onto any sheep farm brings with it an element of risk but also potential on how the lambs will turn out.
Mr Adamson says: “My initial thoughts were that they would appeal to the hobby farmer just keeping a few sheep mainly as pets. They were pretty looking and very quiet.
Now the breed is becoming very popular with small and larger sheep farmers alike.”
And now, as well as breeding full pedigree Dutch Spotted sheep, Mr Adamson is also crossing the breed with some commercial ewes.
He says this cross has produced ‘excellent quality lambs with conformation way above what I expected’.
Mr Adamson explains that the largest part of his sheep enterprise still remains with the Lleyn sheep, which run under the Kilroot prefix.
He says: “I sell them as breeding sheep and commercially too. They normally kill out around 50 per cent and I aim for a carcase weight of 20kg.”
A flushing programme involving eight Dutch Spotted ewes and Lleyn recipients will also hopefully result in a bumper crop of lambs next spring says Mr Adamson.
He says: “I am hoping for 50 to 60 lambs in February as there is strong demand for live Dutch Spotted Sheep as well as for semen and embryos both locally and overseas. Our flock has a high health status and is Scrapie monitored.”
Mr Adamson adds that he finds the Dutch Spotted breed to be very quiet, and have good growth rates from grass.
He says: “They usually kill out at over 50 per cent producing superb meat quality, with some achieving E3s. They make very good mothers and normally lamb at 200 per cent.”
The market for Dutch Spotted Sheep in Northern Ireland is quite buoyant and now breeders overseas are also showing an interest in Mr Adamson’s breeding.
He says: “The spotty markings on the sheep fleeces are proving very attractive to other breeders. I have sent other breeds’ semen to breeders in Canada and USA and now have enquiries for the Dutch Spotted Sheep from America, Europe and further afield.”
Mr Adamson has undertaken a flushing programme involving eight Dutch Spotted ewes and Lleyn recipients this year.
As wool is currently not worth a lot of money, Mr Adamson is trying to find niche markets for the unique fleece
from Dutch Spotted sheep.
He says: “Not everyone wants a dark coloured fleece as it cannot be dyed.
"However, the wool from the Dutch Spotted Sheep is excellent quality and naturally coloured. I have sent a few fleeces off to be spun by local weavers who anticipate that it will produce a sought after, unique product.
"It is my goal to find a niche market for this wool to help add value to the breed.”