Suffolk sheep breeder Lester Peel prepares for show season

Lester Peel amongst his Pedigree Suffolk flock at Greystone Farm, Over Silton near Northallerton.
Lester Peel amongst his Pedigree Suffolk flock at Greystone Farm, Over Silton near Northallerton.
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ALL AROUND the county cattle and sheep breeders and showmen are casting their eyes over their teams, calculating which are likely to give them a good run and best chance of rosettes and trophies at this year’s summer show season that gets underway today at Otley.

It’s a process that starts as soon as lambs and calves are born and a number of farmers profess to know within seconds whether they have something that will do well.

Show people tend to fit into two main categories - those who ‘catch the bug’ and enjoy the preparation, performance and social occasion it brings; and there are those who come because this is their annual shop window, an opportunity to show their prowess in breeding and raising of quality livestock and in so doing highlight their stock as being worthy of a significant price.

The latter was more of the reason for shows starting around the time when livestock breeding pioneer Robert Bakewell extolled the virtues of animal husbandry.

While many breeders and show people have their own selection criteria all who have been stood in a show ring know that the decision on where they are placed comes down to what the judge is looking for and each has his or her penchant for one thing or another.

Lester Peel of Greystone Farm, Over Silton near Northallerton, has a foot in both camps. This year he will be judging at Hope Valley Show in Derbyshire and Astoria in Northern Spain. He will also be showing his pedigree Suffolk sheep at ten shows throughout the county including the Great Yorkshire, Ryedale, Nidderdale, Kilnsey, Masham and Stokesley.

“I like sheep with personality. I know that sounds daft to some people but so long as all the breed points are there I like sheep to look lively and alert. I don’t mind that it might be jumping up a bit or skipping around. I’ll give the handler the time he or she needs because I like my own to stand there taking notice of what’s going on around them.”

It’s a maxim that has stood Lester in good stead as he has won the Suffolk Supreme Championship twice at the Great Yorkshire Show since he took to showing around 15 years ago.

“Our first supreme champion was with an untrimmed fat lamb in 2002 the year following the horrendous time of Foot and Mouth when all our stock had been taken out by a contiguous cull. They were my first crop of lambs since then and it was a very emotional time for my wife Sue and I. For me, winning at Harrogate is the best it could get. The second time we won was with a ram and we also won the interbreed title that year.”

Lester has a flock of 42 breeding ewes on their 70-acre grassland farm. He’s aiming to move up to 50 and although that may not sound a big step, it’s a big deal to him.

“We cull very hard to ensure that everything we have here is quality. You can easily get quantity of ewes up if you’re not bothered about how they look, but when you’re starting to get a reputation you don’t want your quality to slide. I buy rams privately if I can and those with smaller flocks tend to draw my attention more but last year we bought at Carlisle and one of the rams has produced some outstanding lambs. I tend to keep about a third of the ewe lambs back as replacements. Nearly everything we sell is for breeding.

“Sometimes when showing I’ve had people come to me and buy the sheep that are in the pen. I will sell on the proviso I keep showing them for the season.

“One of the important aspects is tight skins particularly if the Suffolks are to be used on Mules which is becoming more popular at present.

“Those using the Suffolk that way are now tending to keep the crossbred female back as replacements, which I think is definitely helping.

“The Suffolk has always been a preference for many breeders and for butchers lambs as they tend to achieve the weight more quickly than other breeds.”

As well as achieving considerable success his Suffolks also led Lester to being nominated to meet the Queen when she last visited the Great Yorkshire Show.

“She was absolutely fantastic and she seemed to know more about the breed than I did!” he said.