Meet the young woman whose lucky punt could see Dutch Spotted sheep thrive in Yorkshire

When a Dutch Spotted ewe was awarded the title of supreme champion at the Great Yorkshire Show in 2019 there was one young breeder from Thirlby who was ecstatic, despite not being the winning owner.

Steph wants to grow the Dutch Spotted breed

Steph Parkinson had bought six pedigree ewes and a tup lamb of this relatively new breed the year previously from breed chairman Keith Harryman and fellow breeder Alan Smith. Steph has since grown her flock to 30 pedigree ewes and her father Tim Parkinson having taken a shine to them, is now also using Dutch Spotted on his commercial Texel flock.

Steph said the moment when Ali Jackson’s ewe was awarded the best sheep at the show two years ago gave her an amazing feeling.

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“I had just started out with Dutch Spotted. I had saved some money to invest in a pedigree breed and Keith had told me all about them and the way in which he believed they would become accepted. This was all before they began taking off and they weren’t the money they are now. I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford them otherwise.

She grew up in a sheep farming family and is marrying into another

“When Ali’s ewe won I was on the sidelines watching and all I could hear was other sheep farmers saying ‘wow, look at these’. After that it just went wild. I thought how I’d struck lucky buying when I had.”

Steph said her dad had taken on a Dutch Spotted tup lamb from Keith, to try against shearlings and older ewes in his flock, after she had started with them.

“Keith wanted to get the breed into the commercial flocks and Dad liked their look, as they are very Texel-shaped. Dad’s a fat lamb man and they were right up his street.

“He thought they needed that extra oomph, and that his Texels needed it too. By putting them together it worked. He ran the Dutch Spotted tup across the old ewes last year and this year it has gone against 50 gimmers.

“Everything I have learned about sheep has come from my dad. We lamb 350-450 breeding ewes every year at Thirlby. They are largely Texels against Texel tups and with Blue Texels in there too, but he has now seen the potential of the Dutch Spotted.

“I like to think I have an eye for the right breeds and what they sometimes need breeding into them. This year we wanted a bit more length in our tups.”

Steph sees the Dutch Spotted as having a great future in both the pedigree breeding and commercial sides.

“My aim is to sell pedigrees to other breeders. We have sold all but one of our tup lambs from last year and I have kept back my gimmers each year because they are worth every penny. We’ve sold tups to farmers in Halifax and Leyburn recently and I’d like us to become known as the Yorkshire Dutch Spotted flock.

“The ewes have a very friendly nature and are great mothers that provide lots of milk.”

Showing the best of her Dutch Spotted is also on Steph’s agenda. This year she lambed from February 1 for the first time in order that they would be ready, but she’s not sure about entering the Great Yorkshire Show for the first time.

“Yes, I feel we should go but I know my dad’s words are always that you don’t take anything to a show or sale until you know it’s up there in quality. You don’t want people looking at your stock thinking why have they brought that? Having said all that I have to say that this year our lambs really do look cracking, so who knows?

“I’m really excited about how they will do at the breed sale in Carlisle in August, by which time they should be perfect. It’s also when we will buy our new tup.

“The Great Yorkshire Show may just be a little too early for us this year but I’m looking to have stock definitely ready for next year and I’d like to maybe get involved with showing them in their own class at other shows in the area in future.”

Steph said there is a way in to the breed that the Dutch Spotted society has put in place.

“It’s a graded system which sees Dutch Spotted tups used five times to produce a pedigree Dutch Spotted. This year we’ve lambed what are grade 3 lambs, crossbreeds bought from Dad, which were originally Dutch Spotted put to a Texel ewe. Once they have lambed offspring and offspring again they will be grade 1, pure Dutch Spotted.

“The grading helps farmers who can’t afford to spend a fortune starting with a complete pedigree flock.”

Steph and her fiancé Andrew Ashbridge have their MV accredited flock at his parents’ Spring House Farm in Brompton near Northallerton. The couple had a lambing experience Steph will never forget this year.

“Andrew proposed in the lambing shed on Valentine’s Day. We’re due to marry next year. These sheep have got something to answer for!”