Breeders flocking to family’s big day

Chris Berry talks to a farming family as they prepare to host one of the biggest sheep events of the year despite a tough start.

David, Michael, Martin & Richard at Crimple Head Farm, Beckwithshaw

Dalesbred and Masham sheep are about to get their biggest promotional event in years if the Wilson family of Crimple Head Farm in Beckwithshaw have anything to do with it.

That’s because they are hosting North Sheep, one of the UK’s largest sheep gatherings on their 1,700-acre farm and their own flocks will be centre stage.

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“I’m chairman for both the Dalesbred and Masham sheep societies,” says David Wilson who is a well-known competitor and winner around the summer agricultural shows.

“The Dalesbreds are doing very well at the moment and holding their own in the market place because of their tremendous carcase. They are one of the best breeds of sheep for a hill farm and while there are only around 120 members of the society it is on the increase not just in the heartlands of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria but further afield too. There are Dalesbreds on the Isle of Lewis where they are crossed to the Scottish Blackface and flocks are popping up in Walkes and Ireland.”

Mashams were incredibly popular years ago but in more recent times have played not just second but probably fourth or fifth fiddle to the Mule, which has taken the north of England by storm.

Yet somewhat ironically everyone still has a soft spot for Mashams, even if they don’t keep them any longer.

David is convinced their time will come again and that they are on their way back. Often it was just a case of their long coats looking a bit bedraggled.

“Numbers were dwindling at one time but people are starting to come back to them. It isn’t necessarily about what they look like it’s what they produce and they are fantastic sheep. The Masham thrives on next to nothing and it lives longer than any other halfbred, usually up to seven to eight years.

“Sheep farmers moved to the Mule, and we have them too, but at exhibitions and shows I constantly hear of those who used to have them 20-30 years ago and who are wanting to get back into them having realised what they used to be like.”

Everyone who ever hosts a major event wants their farm to look the best it can and for their stock to be in top condition but the past 12 months have been a nightmare for most.

“We’ve just had the lambing time from hell,” says David. “Fortunately we’ve not suffered from Schmallenberg but it has been tough. We lamb the Mashams and Mules starting February 20 and the Dalesbreds from March 20. The weather ever since April last year has been against us and trying to keep condition on the livestock, as we have both with cattle and sheep here, has been a battle. We’ve looked after them the best we can and with a bit of good weather beforehand we might just be okay. They’ve had all the inoculations, injections and feed we can give. We fed the molasses earlier than we would normally, so we’ve had to increase our costs.”

The four men around the farmhouse kitchen table as we speak are David and his brother Martin who looks after the cattle; Richard, David’s son; and Michael, David and Martin’s father. Three generations of Wilsons who are combining to put on a show that Michael feels would have been impossible last year.

“If it had been planned for 2012 there is no way it could have been held. It was just so wet. There is an anticipated attendance of something from 7,000-10,000 and we’re hoping that if we get a dry spell it will see us alright. We’re between 600-700ft above sea level here and it’s a mixture of mainly clay land with loam further down. It bakes and cracks during a normal summer and then gets boggy when it rains. In many ways we couldn’t have chosen a worse year to host the event coming after such bad weather and it will be nerve racking making sure everything looks just right.”

The Wilsons are thinking positive thoughts in the lead up to the day itself.

“It’s an honour to hold it here,” says David. “We are expecting the odd sleepless night as we get closer to it though. We know it is already proving very popular with farmers and businesses, because we have what I think is the largest number of breed stands ever at this bi-annual event. We have 47 breed stands and commercially it has also attracted 230 trade stands. It’s good news for the NSA (National Sheep Association).”

There are new events planned too and one of those is in the hands of the youngest Wilson. Richard is organising the sheep shearing competition, which will run at North Sheep for the first time. He has operated successfully as a contract shearer with a fellow farmer’s son Richard Pedley from Kirby Lonsdale for seven years. He’s concentrating on the event being a success rather than taking part himself this time.

“I don’t think I’ll be competing because we will probably all have enough on our plates in organising everything on the day, but I am excited about the competition. We will have some of the world’s best shearers here and it is bound to be a highlight of the whole event.”

North Sheep takes place at Crimple Head Farm, Beckwithshaw on Wednesday, June 5.

Taking stock: Crimple Head Farm

As well as their 1000 Dalesbred ewes and 350 Masham ewes the Wilsons have Mules and 250 hoggs.Lambs are sold at markets in Bentham, Skipton and Otley.

The 100 suckler cattle are mainly Limousin X with 
a few Belgian Blue X that 
are all put to the Limousin bull.

The best Masham 
Sheep Association sale 
is held at Bentham 
where there are 
usually around 2,500 
ewe lambs.

“Hopefully after this 
year’s North Sheep we 
will be able to attract even more to the breed,” 
says David.