Farm of the Week: NHS workers who became champion sheep breeders and turned down Prince Charles

Turning down the Prince of Wales is just one of many wonderful memories that a couple from the North York Moors have experienced since starting out as Teeswater sheep breeders.

Two weeks ago Giles and Kieran Horner of Howe Wath, between Danby and Castleton, topped an extraordinary royal offer by winning all eight classes in the Teeswater breed section at the Great Yorkshire Show, bringing them the breed title.

They also won best fleece at the show and took a reserve interbreed place alongside the Cheviots in the group of three non-accredited.

It was a remarkable achievement for the Horners, who hadn’t exhibited at Harrogate since 2015, and prior to taking on the breed had never farmed at all.

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    “Giles and I work in the NHS and met when we worked at Airedale Hospital. Giles had been looking to join a GP partnership and we relocated to Danby when he picked one up at Egton.

    “I had horses at the time and we wanted somewhere that had land. Howe Wath had more land than we needed for them and that’s how the sheep came about. One of Giles’ patients donated us six sheep from an animal sanctuary in Sheffield and had said that if we could keep them alive we would be able to manage anything. They were Texel-cross-Suffolks and we had taken them on to stop the horses from getting laminitis.”

    The couple had never raised sheep or farmed before but are now breed champions

    Giles said their first foray into sheep had been successful and that having them had sparked an interest in having something a little more special.

    “They were indestructible, virtually immortal, apart from a habit of lying on their backs in the field with their legs in the air and playing dead so convincingly that I once rang the knackerman to come and collect, then rather embarrassingly when he came I found that it had got back on its feet and looked as fit as ever.

    “They had done their job for us, but then we thought about having something better. If we were going to have sheep I wanted to have some local rare breed sheep, something I could take to the local show.

    “I thought that if I could just turn up with some sheep at Egton Show some of my old boys would not expect it and it would be fun seeing their faces.”

    Dr Giles Horner is a GP at Egton Surgery and wife Kieran has also worked in the NHS

    After finding out about Teeswaters, Giles and Kieran went to Reeth Show in 2006 where Giles said they met renowned breeder David Newbould.

    “We persuaded David to sell us a few ewes and ewe lambs and it has all just grown from there. We went to the Teeswater breed sale in October that year and bought the best we could buy at the time from another renowned breeder, Ernest Bainbridge. We had a view that there was no point buying really good ewes and ewe lambs if you then bought a tup not of the same standard. The one we had chosen won the ram lamb class and we didn’t think that might work in our favour, but we were successful in bidding for him.”

    Kieran said it proved to be the right decision and their success since has come down to a combination of those early purchases and her own previous involvement with horses.

    “Everything we have on the farm today emanates from those first purchases from David and Ernest and everything we showed at the Great Yorkshire Show two weeks ago was homebred.

    “I think some people struggle with the concept of how Giles and I have done so well when we had no background in sheep, but we showed at such a high level and had Horse of the Year Show horses. Some things come easy to me with animals, such as conformation, feeding and nutrition, so we had transferable skills.

    “We had to learn sheep husbandry and about the breed and how everything needed to be spot on. I always think another quality is that you never stop learning. That’s what I believe makes people do well.

    “We’ve also made good friends with other breeders along the way. Mike Pearson of Sleights has been really helpful and influential in our decision making. Mike is always my ‘go to’ if we’ve ever had problems and all of the Teeswater breed society members are encouraging and eager to help.”

    The Horners’ flock currently runs to 25 breeding ewes, a handful of aged tups, seven shearling tups and a good deal of this year’s tup and ewe lambs.

    Giles said their system is based on a simple ethos. “We are trying to breed the very best of the very best. Occasionally we might bring in a ewe or ewe lamb that isn’t related to the rest of the flock and try to breed a completely new bloodline.

    “We will always go to the breed sale in the first Thursday in October at Leyburn to buy and sell tups each year. We take a good cohort and often buy two or three tup lambs we think have potential. We’re quite ruthless with ram lambs as there’s not a huge market. We will take our best half dozen. We also sell privately to some local farmers who like Teeswaters.

    “Tupping for us is in August with lambs born in late January and early February to have grown well by July. We have four or five tups working each year and if we’ve had ewes that have clicked well with certain tups we keep them working together. We had four different bloodlines that did well at the Great Yorkshire Show this year.”

    Giles said he feels the Teeswaters tick every box. “They will finish at 55 kilos and if you bought a lamb it would feed a family for a year. They also lead the way in terms of wool quality. It is no surprise that Teeswaters won the Wool on the Hoof and best fleece at the Great Yorkshire this year.

    “They are a passion for us and we’ve had great success not just this year but over many years. They also give us quality family time. Our two children - James, aged five, and Oliver, three - will feed them.”

    So how did Giles turn down the Prince of Wales? “We were at the Westmorland County Show. All of a sudden Prince Charles was stood in front of me and asked ‘Will you be selling the big fellah?’ I said he couldn’t afford him! It caused a good chuckle and a lengthy discussion about the breed.”