Sarah's mission to advance the Dalesbred breed

Understanding the difference between Swaledale and Dalesbred ewes holds great significance to sheep farmers and while both breeds will be represented at Wednesday's North Sheep event in Tow Law, County Durham, the Dalesbred will be aiming to bolster its popularity having lived in the shadows of the Swaledale for many years.

Simon Poulter and Sarah Fleetwood with thier children Joe, 5 months, Will, 6, Jess, 9, and Alex, 11, and Moss one of thier sheepdogs. Pictures by Bruce Rollinson

The Dales Mule, brought about by the crossing of the Dalesbred ewe and Blue Faced Leicester ram, is currently enjoying a boost in numbers and although it has a long way to go in reaching the North of England Mule’s stocking levels, the breed has led to a recent rise in the Dalesbred that originally derived from the Swaledale and the Scottish Blackface.

Sarah Fleetwood farms with her partner Simon Poulter at Brimham Glen Farm near Brimham Rocks where they are building a new family home on their 30 acres. Sarah became secretary of the Dalesbred Sheep Breeders Association after meeting breeder David Wilson of Beckwithshaw at last year’s Masham Sheep Fair. She will be on the Dalesbred stand at North Sheep and she sees it as a breed on the up.

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“We have Dales Mules as well as North of England Mules and also produce Suffolk, Texel and Beltex tups. The tups are one of our main incomes along with Simon’s fencing contracting business.

Moss, one of the sheepdogs at Brimham Glen Farm.

“Our commercial breeding flock of 250 Mules is gradually moving over towards the Dales Mule. It’s not quite halfway but we’re getting that way. There are an increasing number of farmers who now have the Dales Mule and a lot more are showing an interest. We’re encouraging interested people to come to our October breeding sales at Bentham.

“I’d like to help build up the breed. David and fellow breeders were looking for a secretary who wanted to put themself into it and since Simon and I already understand what the Dales Mule can do and see it as a hardy and strong ewe I’m already convinced that the Dalesbred has a great future. We just need to get the word out there.

“The main question that people ask when we are at shows where many breeds are represented is what is the difference between the Swaledale and the Dalesbred. My own opinion is that it’s the benefit you get from Dales Mules producing lambs via the Suffolk, Texel and Beltex that explains why the Dalesbred should grow in numbers.”

The breed differential in terms of markings on the head is that the Dalesbred has one white spot each side of the black face with the end of the muzzle being grey. The main areas historically for the breed are Upper Wharfedale and Nidderdale.

Moss, one of the sheepdogs at Brimham Glen Farm.

“It’s currently recorded as a minority breed with only around 130 registered members but that number is growing and we are hoping to set something up for the breed at Pateley Bridge Livestock Market where Simon works on Saturdays in addition to the annual sales at Bentham and Skipton.”

Sarah’s earlier career, after studying agriculture and estate management at Askham Bryan College, included looking after tenant farms, in-hand farms, gamekeepers, a maintenance team and Emmerdale village at the Harewood estate where she was also responsible for the Hebridean sheep and Highland cattle.

“I’m self-employed now. Most of my work is helping farmers to keep their paperwork right and preparing them for inspections. They are all the jobs farmers are usually not so great at including bookkeeping, maintaining proper records and animal passports. Where that means I can help the Dalesbred breed is that I’m used to exploring areas such as grant availability.”

Sarah and Simon have their commercial breeding flock of Mules split between North of England Mules and Dales Mules plus their smaller flocks of pure Texels, Beltex and Suffolks.

“The fat lambs come from the Mules crossed mainly with the Suffolk tup and are largely sold at Pateley Bridge mart. We find the Suffolk X grow quicker than the Texel X so we get the weights a few weeks ahead of others.

“We look to produce quality tups across all three breeds and have around 30 Suffolk ewes and 25 each of Texel and Beltex. We keep the females as replacements if they make the grade and the tups we also keep and select the best. We then work the tups the first year so that we know they’re right and sell them as shearlings. We sell well at Northallerton mart and Leyburn. We have private buyers too.

“Simon is ruthless on selection. Anything he doesn’t think is good enough will go straight away.”

Lambing is spread between March and April.

“We lamb indoors but as soon as they have lambed both the ewes and lambs are outside the very next day.

“We don’t like keeping them inside.”