They think it’s all over – we’re talking show season at Nunburnholme Wold Farm near Londesborough – but whether or not it is, the past few months have certainly been successful for one of the sheep showing world’s latest entrants.
A very long table in the farmhouse is festooned with rosettes from appearances at eight shows since starting at North Yorkshire County Show in June and it’s fair to say another farmer has been bitten by what many call the showing bug.
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Mark Stephenson farms in partnership with his uncles Patrick and Graeme and grandfather Guy across around 1400-plus acres at Nunburnholme Wold, Pluckham Farm and Londesborough Wold farms. It is a mixed enterprise that includes 800 acres of combinable crops growing wheat, oilseed rape, winter and spring barley, beans and this year rye, with a further 480 acres down to grass and a large share of woodland.
Cattle, pigs, sheep and a shoot make up the rest of the Stephensons’ activity with a commercial herd of 170 suckler cows made up of mainly Limousin X and Salers X; 600 pigs on a bed and breakfast basis; and the now headline grabbing sheep flock that includes 70 Suffolk and Texel X breeding ewes, but with the stars being the pedigree Blue Texel flock that presently runs to just 15 breeding ewes.
Livestock is where Mark’s passion lies although he’s involved with all of the farm operation.
He’s also prepared to go that extra mile in order to get what he wants, which he did when purchasing his first Blue Texels in June last year whilst away for the weekend with his wife Amy.
“We were going up to North Yorkshire for a few days, but ended up travelling via Barnard Castle in County Durham. I knew where I was going. Amy twigged. She asked how I seemed to know exactly which direction to go. When I said we were going to see someone she looked at me and said ‘it’s about sheep isn’t it?’.
“I’ve always been a big cattle man and still love my cows but I’ve always liked sheep. We used to have 1200 breeding ewes years ago when my dad was alive. He passed away when I was 13. He and Patrick used to look after the flock.
“I felt we ought to try something different and I knew Henry Jewitt had some great sheep so we went to his place and ended up coming back with two ewes and two lambs. We’ve had Texels before but I’d been watching the progress of the Blue Texels over the past few years and liked their fleeces, tight skins and carcasses.
“It’s a new experience for us going with a pedigree breed and showing, which is a particularly big jump up, but it has started well.”
Breed champions at Driffield and Aldborough & Boroughbridge shows plus reserve breed champion at Ryedale last week along with many firsts, seconds and thirds have given Mark the confidence to start looking towards next year already, although he’s not trying to get ahead of himself.
“We might not be ready for a go at the Great Yorkshire Show just yet, but you never know what next year might bring. I felt as though it was a big gamble when we started, as I’d never shown before. It was a bit daunting. We hadn’t done any halter work with them although they are fairly quiet so that didn’t worry me, but I was quite nervous at the North Yorkshire County Show, our debut. You don’t know what the judge is looking for when you are new to it and I just watched what everybody else was doing. We had two firsts with a ewe lamb and a shearling and came away with a rosette for all five sheep. I was absolutely chuffed.
“I’d added to the flock that now goes under the name of Londesborough Wold Blue Texels with purchases from a breed society sale at Worcester last year and at Carlisle this year, buying from noted flocks such as Saltire Blue Texels from Aberdeen and Hackney in Shropshire.
“I purchased Saltire Blue Cover Girl who has done really well, but what pleased me most was winning as champion with a lamb I’d bred this year. We’ve only had one lambing. I lamb the Blue Texels earlier than the commercial flock at the beginning of February so the lambs have the size for the show season and for sales.
“Ryedale Show was fantastic. It’s such a big sheep show that to do well there was special, but to win at Aldborough & Boroughbridge with my own ewe lamb in a strong class was tremendous. I show them, Amy is chief groom and does a great job and my good friend Richard White, who also shows, has really helped get us under way. Our one-year old son Harry may start his young handlers career next year.”
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Mark’s aims are to build his Blue Texel flock up to 35-40 breeding ewes in order to sell ram lambs at breed society sales and direct off-farm. He’s certainly helped his cause with this year’s show season.
“We will be lambing 15 ewes for next February unless I get back up to Carlisle at the end of this month. I’m keen on quality. I want good stock to be able to breed my own flock the right way for their colouration and be good on their feet. I’ve already sold a couple of tup lambs for flocks to use them for crossing, but I have kept all of this year’s females.
“The Blue Texel has made its name on being an ideal terminal sire and crosses well with all breeds of ewe. As the breed is smaller headed than the Texel and others it provides for an easy lambing operation. They finish well too.”
Mark isn’t getting misty-eyed over his success in the show rings this year. He has his head firmly fixed on the business end of sheep farming whether it is selling pedigree tups or boxed lamb, that the family sells direct from the farm.
He has been grateful for the advice he has received from fellow showmen and women and through the Blue Texel Sheep Breeders Society, particularly secretary Cheralyn Henderson.
Who knows, maybe Mark’s show season isn’t over yet. There are more shows available once harvest is over.