How historic Leicester Longwool breed is thriving at Sledmere Farm Park in Yorkshire
One of the first estates to have taken on Leicester Longwool sheep was Sledmere Hall & Estate and just five years ago they returned when the farm park was born.
Sledmere-born Laura Clark had been involved at the racing stables run at Sledmere by Declan Carroll when in her teens and was enticed to return when the move was made back towards having horses.
But for Laura, a devout fan of all things horsey and totally besotted by the seven Shires that currently reside at Sledmere, there is a rival for her affection with the Leicester Longwool flock which she has been responsible for growing on Sir Tatton Sykes’ estate.
Laura finished this year’s showing season in style at Masham Sheep Fair when her tup Erik, aka Sledmere Edison, made it five successive championships for Sledmere Estate & Farm Park at the show, winning Any Other Breed Longwool for the third time, following two years of winning Any Other Purebred.
“We started showing the sheep in 2018,” says Laura. “And we’ve won at Masham every time. You don’t expect it. We get there, look at the other sheep and say, nah, we don’t have a chance today.
“We started with five sheep, two gimmer shearlings and three gimmer lambs from the Jarvis’ Loddington flock in Leicestershire. It meant we only had two to put to the tup the first year, so we borrowed a tup from Chris Mudd’s West End flock. The following year we had all five to go to the tup, so we bought one of Chris’ tups.
“Chris was about to send it to market, never to be seen again. That tup bred us champions. It’s crazy to think he was on the next trailer out of there. He is now with Tim Lugsden our chairman.
“We currently have 60 sheep including one black one. There are 20 breeding ewes and we put them to three tups. We have kept all of our lambs this year as we want a bit more selection for show season. We will sell some next year as shearlings. We have just three gimmer shearlings this time because we didn’t keep many gimmer lambs last year. I’ve quite a few tups.
Laura says the history of Sledmere Estate’s Leicester Longwools predates the first flock book.
“Sledmere was involved right at the beginning when the Leicester Longwool breed was started. We thought there might have been some in the very first flock book. They’re not, but a lot of the ones that are there come back to the Sledmere flock.
When the Shires are at shows Laura is usually there with her colleagues Lizzie (Gowland) and Hannah (Farmer) but when with the sheep she has found a useful apprentice – her mum, Helen.
“Mum started being involved at Malton Show last year. I’d entered two black Leicester Longwools which went in a different section and ended up running alongside the other classes, so I dragged mum in, putting a white coat on her, with her white plimsolls on and she beat me in the first class. She got quite a taste for it and now absolutely loves it. I can’t keep her out of the ring now.
“We are so lucky that several shows have Leicester classes. We go to Malton, Huby & Sutton, Great Yorkshire, Driffield, Ryedale, Thornton le Dale, Masham and also the Rare Breed Show & Sale, plus others where we can get to.
“I’m always looking at different shows where we can go to next. It all helps promote the estate and the farm park.
Laura’s love of Shires remains undiminished.
“We started with a pony, an ex-racehorse and a Shire. A pony because an estate with visitors always needs a pony; a racehorse because of the estate’s racehorse training background; and a Shire because of the Wolds Waggoners.
“When we had our first Shire horse arrive, Southburn Diana, in the August 2015 it set us off on the idea of having a little farm park next door. We soon moved up to three Shires and now we have seven.
“When I was younger I used to spend a lot of my summer holidays with my nanna Kathleen and Grandad Brian and they used to take me to my favourite place, which was Staintondale Shire Horse Farm at the coast which is sadly no longer around.
“My love for Shires has been there ever since and how it has all come about here seems to have been my destiny.
“We became a Shire Horse Visitor Centre about three and a half years ago. We announced it just before going into the very first lockdown. Everyone comes to see them. We now have five that drive and our main brood mare Julie, who has foals every year, she’s unbelievable. Another mare, Poppy had her first foal last year. We generally go over to Mark Richardson at Bewholme to use his stallion.
All driving is usually around the Sledmere Estate and the Shires can be booked for weddings and other special carriage rides such as on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
“We started showing the Shires in 2018,” says Laura. “We took them to the Great Yorkshire with a Wolds waggon. Unfortunately, the agricultural pairs isn’t always a class, but if they put it back on we would definitely be back, it was fantastic.
“We try to get out to shows as much as possible but currently there’s only me that can tow the trailer so it would mean three trips to get the horse-drawn horse ambulance out, take that and come back and get the sheep and then the horses.
“Once they are all there I take charge of the sheep and then Lizzie and Hannah do the horses. I try to watch them and help out.
Sledmere Farm Park also has other rare breeds including Oxford Sandy & Black pigs; Golden Guernsey goats and rare breed chickens.
Laura says the pigs and goats have proved particularly successful.
“We’ve always had two sows, but we have just gone to three because the estate café and farm shop are now using and selling the meat and private customers are buying half pigs. The demand for the meat is crazy, plus we also sell to other breeders.
“We’ve just got two gilts from Tom’s Farm in London. Theirs are a very high standard. They’re trying to get me to show the pigs.
“We have five Golden Guernsey nanny goats and have had another this time that we will keep. We’ve only got twelve altogether. We don’t have to push selling them. Visitors come and buy.