The Brand family will be returning to the Royal Highland Show for their fifth year as exhibitors, having already won two breed championships at the event. Lynsey Clark reports.
THE East Fortune flock of Hampshire Downs has come a long way since its beginnings just eight years ago. At last year’s Royal Highland Show they secured the champion and reserve breed titles, with home-bred ewe and ram lambs, before going on to win the inter-breed pairs award. That victory was followed by another championship at the National Show in Stratford and, to top off a successful year, East Fortune was named best overall flock at the National flock competition.
But it was not established to be a ‘show’ flock, as Grant Brand explains: “Our main aim has always been to have ewes which are of consistent quality. We were actually reluctant to show the sheep to begin with but after a few years, when we had the flock at a level we were happy with, we decided it was the best way to advertise our sheep and get our name known in the breed.
“Doing well at the Highland has definitely been a great showcase for the flock. It is such a well-known event and people come from all round the world to attend it.”
r Brand runs East Fortune Farm, North Berwick, with his wife Jane, their young sons, Ritchie (seven) and Robert (six), and his parents Dick and Janey. In the past, the family rented nearby land in addition to the 36 hectares (90 acres) they own, but losing the rental land meant they had to think of ways to diversify to make their limited acreage as profitable as possible.
Mr Brand says: “In 2002 we branched out with a holiday side to the business, which now includes two caravan sites and a holiday flat. It works really well for us and the whole family pull together to ensure it all runs smoothly, including Jane’s dad, who lives next door.”
This enables Mr Brand to carry out a full-time job off-farm, working for an organic recycling company. The Hampshires were specifically chosen as he felt they would suit the land and system at East Fortune, and could be easily managed alongside everything else.
“We went completely out of livestock for 15 years, but we felt the land needed stock on it so we studied lots of different sheep breeds. We chose the Hampshire for its grass finishing ability and the fact we can lamb them late December/early January, which is a quieter time at my work.
“In 2009 we saw the sheep industry was changing and commercial breeders would be looking to select breeds which were cheaper to keep. The Hampshires produce fast-growing lambs which can be finished quickly off grass, so they fit this requirement perfectly.”
After settling on a breed, the flock was mainly founded on females from Jim Cresswell’s Wattisfield flock in Norfolk, with ewes also bought from the Raeburn flock, Northumberland.
Mr Brand says: “I met Jim at a sale in Carlisle and was particularly impressed with his sheep, they were really true to type, so we went down to see them at home. I always buy with my eye. They need to be stretchy, with good conformation and a good topline.”
To pull in different bloodlines, Mr Brand says they use AI sires and this, combined with the use of home-bred rams, has allowed them to increase ewe numbers to 50. Wattisfield What Not has been a particularly successful AI choice, breeding one of last year’s winning pair at the Highland, and East Fortune Angus has been the most prominent of the home-bred sires. Angus is out of one of the original Raeburn ewes and is still going strong as an eight-crop ewe.
Lambing begins late December and takes place inside, with the ewes and lambs put back out as quick as possible.
“Hampshire ewes make tremendous mothers. They are canny and lamb easily, with the lambs being fine and thrifty when born.”
Mr Brand says they select the best of the ewe and tup lambs at 10 weeks old, and the remainder are killed at 14-16 weeks (50-55kg liveweight) through Shotts abattoir and butchered by Scottish Border Meats.
Mr Brand says: “We sell about 28 lambs in boxes to regular customers, who buy from us every year. Hampshire meat is really superior in quality and taste and our customers are willing to pay a premium for it. We have even managed to convert some who thought they did not like lamb before.”
Attention to detail is paramount at East Fortune, to make best use of the relatively small acreage. A paddock system has been set up for the sheep to rotate round and Grant is particular when it comes to grass growing.
“We sow 10 acres of fresh grass leys every year and use the Castle Mixture, Dundas, which suits the farm and has a good percentage of clover. Other than the grass shut-off for haylage, we use no fertiliser, meaning it is a low-input system. The growth rate of the Hampshire lambs on grass is phenomenal.
“We have recently expanded our sheep numbers and bought 30 Lleyn ewes to put to the Hampshire tup. We think this should be a fast finishing cross, so we are looking forward to seeing the results.”
The Brands sell 20 per cent of the rams lambs not finished off grass at home to commercial or pedigree buyers, with the rest heading to Kelso Ram Sales to be sold as shearlings.
Mr Brand says: “Demand is definitely increasing for the breed and we find buyers tend to return to buy from us again. The biggest problem for us is the Hampshire rams last for several years so the buyers do not need to come back too often. We sell females privately off-farm too.”
With tupping time in July and this also being the peak holiday period, the summer months can be hectic enough at East Fortune, so they limit their showing to Stirling, the Royal Highland Show and Haddington. Ingliston is just half an hour’s drive away but it is a family affair for the Brands and they make a holiday of it, which makes it an event they all look forward to.
Jane says: “The children are so excited about the Highland and Robert is entered in the Young Handlers this year too. Granny and Grandpa come and Grant takes a week off work, so it really is a family event.
“It is definitely one of the most prestigious shows in the UK and it attracts breeders from all over the country, so it is a great shop window for the sheep, but also brilliant fun.”
The Brands have 10 sheep heading to the Highland, but regardless of the show result, they will certainly have an excuse to celebrate, with both Jane and Grant turning 40 during the four days of the show.