Leicester Longwool sheep and Shire horses have returned to Sledmere Estate where the historic Sledmere House, a Grade I listed Georgian Country House set in beautiful grounds, is combining its history with new, family friendly enterprises.
Sledmere House and grounds has been a tourist favourite for decades, visitors eager to explore one of East Yorkshire’s best known residences owned presently by Sir Tatton Sykes the eighth baronet.
It is now the turn of animals that were involved on the farm in past centuries to take centre stage and tell more of the Sledmere story.
Laura Clark, a villager born and bred, is at the helm of Sledmere Farm Park that will soon become recognised as a Rare Breeds Survival Trust farm and also as a visitor centre by the Shire Horse Society.
Next Sunday sees a special day for Laura and her team when their new Down On The Farm event will include involvement with the two organisations as well as many other livestock and produce attractions.
“We have reintroduced some of the livestock that once grazed Sledmere Estate and we are intending to add more,” says Laura.
“There was a Leicester Longwool flock here many years ago and the first ewes we bought have the same bloodlines.”
Laura started her working life in Sledmere stables as a stable lass for racehorses.
“This was a breeding yard and in days gone by the horses produced here would top the bloodstock sales at Doncaster.
“There was a time when racehorse trainer Declan Carroll, now based at Norton, trained here and I worked for him first. I was offered a position back here nearly five years ago after having moved to work with Sue and Ian Mason’s Point to Point horses at West Lutton.
“We now have Shire horses which were also part of the farming operation on the estate before tractors took over.
“We have taken on a brood mare, Julie, who has had a foal, Walter, that is now three and a half months old and we have two working horses Amy and Poppy who drive a Wolds wagon around the estate.
“They are in demand for weddings held here.
“Currently, we have 15 Leicester Longwool breeding ewes and around 25 head in total. We’ve now lambed the flock three times and we have done really well at agricultural shows considering we’ve just started. It is a good advertisement for the farm park.
“We attended our first Great Yorkshire Show last year and came away with two winners and reserve male champion; and at Masham Sheep Fair we had Any Other Pure Breed champion.
“It was all far better than we expected.
“This year we have shown at Driffield and Ryedale and are hoping to be back at Masham. We also have our own young handlers at the shows. Lauren Fenwick, who promotes all of the farm park activities as well as the farm shop, gift shop, café and all the special events, has two lovely children who are picking up rosettes.
“We are all really happy with the way our showing is going and we are looking forward to next year’s Great Yorkshire Show.
“Our rare breed farm status requires us to have at least two species of rare breed livestock and our other breed, in addition to the Leicester Longwool flock, is now our Oxford Sandy and Black pigs.
“We’re finding that visitors like them because of their colouring.
“We had started with Gloucester Old Spots, but we have found the Oxfords are a lot quieter and not quite so big.
“We give them plenty of room in a new pig area split into four and offer them bark to root in.
“We had originally branded ourselves the Spotty Pig Play Farm and so we wanted spotty pigs. We’re trying to provide breeds that have a history of being here alongside those that quite simply the public would like to see.
“We have two sows and both have had a litter each so far. We have also kept back one gilt to replace one of the sows and we hope to keep a boar from the litter produced by the sow that is going, so that we can move away from AI-ing.”
Golden Guernsey goats and rare breed poultry make up the rest of the stock at the farm park currently but Laura and her team are already planning their next acquisition which looks likely to be cattle.
“There is some history of British White cattle being on the estate and so we are intending to go to a sale in Melton Mowbray in the near future to take a look.”
In the meantime the latest event, Down On The Farm, to be held next weekend, Sunday, September 8, is the central focus with great support from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
“Our local York group is bringing four other breeds of sheep, a couple of breeds of goats and some turkeys. There will be a rare breed parade with commentary from renowned rare breeds show woman Lyn Arrowsmith, and Ruth Dalton will be giving talks on sheep and pig breeds.
“We’ve also a local group of beekeepers from Fridaythorpe who are bringing an observation hive and will be giving a honey demonstration.
“We are hoping our accreditation status as a rare breeds farm and a Shire Horse Society centre will come our way in the not-too-distant future,” says Lauren.
“The farm park and our other attractions are always evolving and we are constantly looking for breeds that will highlight the history and keep telling the wonderful story of the estate.”
Sledmere Farm Park looks set for a great future with an enthusiastic team that is keen to increase its involvement with rare breeds and to develop a new history for Sledmere Estate.
These are exciting times for Laura and the team as they host the first Down On The Farm event next Sunday.