North Yorkshire farmer who runs the oldest sheep breed in the world

BEING AROUND sheep farmers can be a funny experience. It’s fine at shows where all breeds are together but in a weekly sale ring at market, if you turn up with a breed that isn’t the norm there can be raised eyebrows from the regulars.

Emma Chester bottle feeding one of her Jacob lambs at Dalton near Thirsk. (GL1006/52b)

Emma Chester has Jacob sheep and next Sunday (July 19), she’ll be running the sheep classes at Aldborough & Boroughbridge Show while her dad Mike runs the vintage tractor section. Emma isn’t bothered about the odd remark about her chosen breed and is doing quite well with her flock, selling boxed lamb and pedigree stock. She and her dad are both employed in the agricultural industry and rent a small acreage at Dalton Moor, Dalton near Thirsk.

“I caught the bug for being involved with farming off dad and when I left school I decided to study agriculture. I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in an office. I wanted to be out and about, so I went to Askham Bryan College and then wanted some sheep of my own.”

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Emma bought her first Jacob sheep five years ago having attended the rare breeds sale at York Auction Centre.

“I didn’t really have a clear idea of what I wanted except I knew they had to be thrifty. I’d been told that Jacob sheep were good all-rounders producing tasty meat, good mothers and easy lambers so I bought eight ewes, four of which were shearlings and the other four having already run with the tup.

“We started off by renting two acres off a friend’s farm at Kirby Hill and in our first year of lambing we had four lambs of which three were tups. That was a bit disappointing when we were keen to grow a flock so we bought two more gimmer lambs from a farmer in Pateley Bridge to get our numbers up and had the shearlings that were by now ready for the tup.”

The flock, which carries the name Fettle Mead, ran to 15 breeding ewes earlier this year and they had 30 lambs. From that crop around ten gimmer lambs will be joining the breeding flock in future. Emma has found there are other benefits to having Jacobs.

“I knew I was never going to make this into a massive business but I wanted something that could utilise all aspects of the sheep. We now attract premium prices for the fleeces as the Jacob fleece is quite desirable amongst spinners especially for the first clip.

“We came here to Dalton Moor, where we rent eight acres, nearly three years ago and we have two tups back at Kirby Hill. We live in Dishforth. All of the boys, apart from a few that are sold as tups, go as fat lambs and we sell quarter, half or full lamb in boxes to friends and family or even on eBay as freezer-ready lamb. Jacob lamb has a nice sweet taste due to its marbling. We send them to Richard Horner’s abattoir in Kilburn. It’s turning from a hobby into something that’s starting to pay its way.”

Emma has also expanded upon sales of pedigree Jacobs.

“A lot of it is down to word of mouth. We do quite a bit of showing and that helps. We had reserve champion at Aldborough & Boroughbridge Show a couple of years ago and we’ve entered for this week’s Great Yorkshire Show. We also show at Masham Sheep Fair and Ryedale Show.”

This is Emma’s second year in charge of the sheep entries at Aldborough & Boroughbridge Show, which moved to RAF Dishforth last year.

“The move proved a great success and we had over 150 individual sheep entries. I’ll take entries up to the day before the show so if you want to come just let me know. We have breed classes for Texel, Ryeland, Zwartles, Jacob, Any Other Native Breed and Any Other Continental Breed plus butchers lambs and a young handlers class. It’s a great show that gets about 6,000 attending every year and our cattle and sheep sections are fantastic.”

Mike and Emma are both on the show committee. Mike loves his vintage tractors and recently took part in the Beadlam Tractor Run for the seventh time, Tractor Fest at Newby Hall, and Duncombe Park Steam Rally last weekend.

“I have a collection of nine tractors including the 1986 Ford 7610 we use here, but my favourite is my Ford 5000. I look after the vintage section at the show and we usually have around 40 vehicles from tractors to cars and wagons. The highlight of the section is the parade at 2.30pm.”

Jacob sheep originated in the Middle East and are believed to be the oldest sheep breed in the world.

They are known for their distinctive deep-bodied appearance, black and white coats and horns. The breed is hardy, long living and produces lean meat. Both sexes have horns, either two or four.

Jacobs were first imported to the UK during the Elizabethan era and there are now 6,500 breeding ewes in Britain.

Mike Chester has worked for agricultural company BATA for 26 years having previously been employed by an agricultural contractor and by North Yorkshire farmer Robin Bosomworth.