Meet the 'novice' sheep breeders aiming to crack the Great Yorkshire Show for the first time

Winning that prestigious red rosette at the Great Yorkshire Show is the ambition of many and for one South Yorkshire sheep breeder this time of year is always one full of hope that this could be his year as his new-born lambs hit the ground.

Steven Read and his wife Lucy own and rent land across 58 acres at Burncross, Grenoside and started their pedigree Suffolk flock that presently runs to around 30-plus breeding ewes 13 years ago.

Steven said their best results at Harrogate have come in the two most recent shows to be held, in 2019 and last year in 2021, when they were awarded a third place rosette, last year with an untrimmed ewe lamb bred by themselves.

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“We’ve been on with Suffolks since our daughter Matilda was born and we will go to shows at Malton, Penistone, Leek and Harden Moss. We’ve had overall supreme champion Suffolk that went on to take the Interbreed title at Penistone, but we’ve yet to crack Harrogate.

Ten-year-old William Read feeds the sheep

“Lester Peel, one of the Suffolk Society’s best-known breeders, was the judge that day at Penistone and Lester has fetched us on with a lot of advice, giving us the benefit of his experience and offering us a different perspective on our flock.

“He’s told us which he would keep of our breeding ewes and is a mine of information about the Suffolk bloodlines.”

Steven said he was attracted to the Suffolk breed as he had looked after a pedigree flock when he was working as head cowman for the Hodgsons of Rockley Abbey Farm at Worsborough upon leaving school. He has run his own landscaping business for many years but never lost his love of the breed.

“I would spend a lot of time with the sheep after I’d finished milking for the Hodgsons, who I still do some work for today. When Lucy and I started with sheep ourselves they were the obvious choice.

Daughter Matilda, 13, mucks in

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“As we have built up the flock we now sell surplus either privately or at livestock markets and breed sales. The main Suffolk breed sales are at Shrewsbury and Carlisle, but this past year we have sold really well at Bakewell where there is a good market for commercial tups. We had ram lambs away at £800.”

Lucy said that last year at Harrogate was a real achievement in the Suffolk ring.

“The third places we have had at the Great Yorkshire have meant so much to us as we only show what we breed ourselves and there is such pride in that. We were standing second for such a long time until we were moved down to third. There’s always this or next year.

The Reads farm at Grenoside, near Sheffield

“But the Great Yorkshire isn’t just about trying to win. It’s a big family time for all of us, bringing us all together. Steven, me, our daughter Matilda and son William.

“We enjoy being able to get out and talk to people. Other breeders or the general public who come to the show. It also gives the children responsibility and pride in what they do.

“They both enter the young handlers classes too and it’s our holiday going to Harrogate each year. We are already looking forward to it.”

Steven said that until recently they have been a little shy of going to sell stock at the Suffolk breed society sales but 13 years into the breed they are starting to relax a little more about it.

“I know it sounds a bit daft but we’ve probably put ourselves down a bit.

“I was also a little scared to sell anything if it was a good ’un earlier on, but we have surplus lambs these days that we are now prepared to sell on and not feel as though what we send would not be good enough.

“We still consider ourselves relatively new breeders, especially among some that have been doing it for decades and generations, but when we’ve been to the society sales in more recent times we’ve started realising we could have brought our own stock and it would have stood well alongside many others.”

Steven said that while the shows and breed shows and sales are where achievements are made, that his own personal achievement is in having their own sheep at home in Grenoside.

“When I’ve finished my work for the day it’s just really nice to come home to be with my family and with our sheep.

“We are also doing our bit of education for local people. We host visits for organisations like the local Beavers and Cub Scouts who come to find out more about farming and the sheep.

“There is so much that needs to be done in this way and it was never brought home to us more than when one child said that they didn’t know where lamb came from.”

Steven said that he and Lucy rent 40 acres from which they make haylage and silage. “Our haylage is sold to the local horse community and we keep any second cut as silage for the sheep.”

Their pedigree prefix is Read Suffolks.