Pedigree Poll Dorset sheep dovetail perfectly with a traditional dairy herd producing quality milk in an organic system on a West Wales farm.

The Downes family Terry and Jane with their daughter, Sian, 27, and son, Richard, 25, lamb their flock of 160 ewes in two batches, thanks to the Dorset’s unique ability to breed at any time of the year, fitting in with the predominantly autumn calving herd of 160 milkers.

Sian and Richard also have two elder siblings, Daniel, 40, and his wife and family have pedigree Balwens and commercial ewes whilst he works full time for Caltech-Crystalyx as a sales manager, whilst eldest daughter Sara, 38 farms with her husband and family North of Aberystwyth where they also run an organic dairy herd selling milk through vending machines.

The family farms 480 organic acres in Llangeitho and Aberaeron with a further 120 organic acres of rented ground at Tregaron, which carries the dairy herd and 200 followers as well as the Dorset flock and a small number of Suffolks for ram production.

The Downes family were running 750 ewes alongside a pedigree and commer- cial Limou sin beef herd at Cilcert Uchaf, Llangeitho, Tregaron in Ceredigion but dispersed the beef herd in 2016 and diversified into milk production.

Sian was first introduced to the Dorset breed at the age of 11 by Geraint Jones the Dorset Sheep Breeders’ Associ ation current national chairman who, keen to promote the merits of the sheep to young breeders, encouraged her to ex-hibit the sheep in young handlers classes at shows.

“We started with the Dorsets in 2007. I wanted to have a couple of ewes myself and I pe rsuaded Mum and Dad who bought 17 at the Welsh club sale,” said Sian.

The Sian D flock was established and numbers grew. 

“By 2014 we had 350 pure bred ewes with a further 400 Lleyns,” said Sian. “Since then we have cut back numbers, focusing purely on Dorset sheep which performed better on our system when Richard re- turned home to set up the dairy herd with our parents alongside completing his Ag- ricultural Degree” said Sian, who works as a ram production co ordinator for Innovis based in Aberystwyth. 

 After completing her degree in Agriculture with Animal Science at Harper Ad- ams University in 2018 she gained further experience working as a shepherd for two years on an estate in Norfolk with a flock of 3000 Aberfield crossbreds.

The dairy herd comprises mostly Friesian type crosses but it includes pedigree Dairy Shorthorns registered under the Cilcert prefix. The crossbreds are AId with the Friesian or Genus ABS Fertility Plus beef semen with a Hereford sweeper bull while the Dairy Shorthorns are bred pure.

Milk production with the emphasis on butterfat (4.8%) and protein (3.4%) is sold to Aberystwyth based Rachel’s Dairy for organic yoghurt production.

The Dorsets fit in well with the grass bas ed organic system and the dairy herd, utilizing late autumn early winter grazing after cows are housed, reducing anthelmintic usage.

The flock is mostly home bred because of the organic system, although some females have been bought in from the organic Salisbury Plain based Blackhill and Scottish Borders Lammermuir flocks.

“The Dorsets have a big following in Wales either for pedigree flocks or com- mercial breeders,” said Sian. The Downes’ are great supporters of the Welsh Dorset Sheep Club now in its 18th year which runs a club sale at Llandovery annually. In recent years a sale has been set up at Llanybydder market attracting the crossbred Dorset market, each attracting up to 500 sheep.

Sian is taking on the Welsh club secretary’s role in April while Alys Eadon the club secretary, travels and works in Australasia. She is also a member of the national society’s council and is actively involved in promoting and publicising the breed both regionally and nationally.

All ewes run with teasers for two weeks pri or to the rams being turned out. The annual scanning percentage runs at around 175. 

The older ewes lamb in February and this year the majority of the 100 ewes had lambed within two weeks. The ewes are flushed on plenty of autumn pasture growth before the Dorset is put in with them for five weeks at the end of September.

With ample housing, the spring flock is housed at the end of December, seven weeks prior to lambing. The ewes are sheared between Christmas and New Year which the Downes’ have found keeps them healthier and assists in management at lambing.

For the third year, a further 60 ewes born the previous February and March go to the ram for three weeks at the end of April/early May to lamb as shearlings from mid September to mid Octobe r. They lamb outside at Cilcert Uchaf at 800ft above sea level.

Some of these will be sold in lamb last year they sold to a top price of 500gns and averaged 440gns across three sales and the remainder will lamb at home.

Ewe lambs which are true to type are kept as breeding sheep and all ram lambs are kept entire, with 20 pulled out to grow on to sell as yearlings or teaser tups. There is a demand for Dorset vasectomised tups which are sold as teasers.

Any lambs not kept for pedigree or commercial breeding are sold finished to Dunbia at Llanybydder, near Lampeter, less than 20 miles away. The Downes’ are pleased with how they grade Us and R3Ls averaging 18 21.8kg deadweight for September/October lambs sold at the turn of this year.

Ewes are sold draft at five years old at Llanybydder and Llandovery and they will go on to produce another two or three sets of lambs. Since the flock be- came MV accredited in July 2020 they have marketed their pedigree stock also at Exeter, Worcester and Carlisle.

Last year was the first time of selling at the Dorset society’s biggest sale of the year, the May Fair in Exeter and Sian was delighted that two shearling rams made 950gns a piece.

At the 2022 May Fair the Downes will be selling some February 2021 born yearling rams and some October born ewe lambs. On the back of a strong trade for finished lambs and commercial ewes, Sian is optimistic about the trade.

There is a ready demand for pure registered Dorset rams as the new Dalehead Foods Dorset breed lamb Scheme gathers momentum in Wales.

Lambs marketed under the scheme have to be 50% registered Dorset and will command a premium over standard.

“We are looking forward to the increased demand for Dorset’s in Wa les on both the maternal and terminal sires for cross breeding, many farms locally now run a few Dorset’s and are beginning to realise the potential of a good downland ewe’s potential even at a 1000ft in West Wales”

The Sian D flock will be entering the first Welsh National show being staged this year at Aberystwyth Show on the second Saturday in June.

The Downes family also plan to enter Dorsets at the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate in July for the UK National Dorset show. The family will be entering two home bred Dairy Shorthorn heifers in what is expected to be a huge display at the Yorkshire Show for both dairy and beef Shorthorns as the society celebrates 200 years of breeding and the UK hosts the Shorthorn World Congress.

“The Dorset is a versatile breed it is a terminal sire and is in big demand particularly in Wales in commercial flocks. It is also a maternal breed which is easy to look after,” said Sian.

“The ewes make excellent mothers with very little inputs and they produce excellent commercial lambs off grass. The breed’s ability to lamb out of season is a great bonus and on our farm is a big complement to the dairy operation,” she added.

Back to blog