Achieving show successes in pedigree livestock breeding is a long-term endeavour, but West Yorkshire producer, Stephen Short, has notched up a couple of significant wins within a relatively ‘short’ time since establishing his ‘Highcliffe’ Hampshire Down sheep flock in 2010.

Stephen used to run a commercial sheep enterprise alongside the suckler cow herd, but it was replaced with the Hampshire Down in the quest for a breed that would finish well off grass.

“I bought two pedigree Hampshire Down shearling ewes and they performed well, so another four females and a ram were added,” said Stephen, of Highcliffe Farm, Southowram, near Halifax. “The progeny of this little group lived up to the breed’s reputation and the flock grew from there.”

Today, the almost 200-acre unit supports 30 pedigree Hampshire Down ewes and the flock has the distinction of having produced Great Yorkshire Show breed champions for two consecutive years.

The Northern Farmer: Stephen Short at Wolsingham Show 2023 with his breed champion, a ewe lamb by Highcliffe Highlight

“In 2021, our breed section overall winner was a ewe lamb which has been retained in the flock; she has most recently produced a ram lamb,” said Stephen. “The following year, we returned with a team which included a ram, Highcliffe Highlight, and went on to be breed champion in the Hampshire Down lines. The ram been used extensively across the flock and has sired some good quality lambs.”

At a more local level, Stephen came away with three rosettes in the ring at the 2023 Emley Show. His ewe lamb made reserve champion and the ram lamb won a first prize, while a second ewe lamb took a reserve position in her class. He also had the 2023 breed champion at Wolsingham Show.

Stephen’s enthusiasm for the breed has led him to join the Hampshire Down Sheep Breeders Association (HDSBA) committee and he is secretary for the northern area. His appreciation of the breed has shaped his opinions about the ideal Hampshire Down sheep.

“I like my animals to show traditional breed type and decent colour, with ears that are black; not light-coloured and definitely not woolly. They also need to have body width and depth, with plenty of gigot. The Hampshire Down is a hardy sheep, with good longevity.

“This year, I have used the AI ram, Yarcombe Topper, a past national breed show champion bred by the Derrymans, who farm in Devon. Topper is by Wattisfield Topper, a highly noted breed sire, so I am really looking forward to seeing his lambs.”

The flock is lambed indoors in mid-December and this ensures that lambs destined for the show and sale season ahead are well-grown.

“The ewes are fed concentrates pre-lambing to promote milk supply for the lambs,” he said. “Turnout is weather dependent, but ewes and lambs have been grazed during the day as early as January; this year turnout was in early February. The lambs have access to creep feed, but only until the grass gets going.”

Weaning takes place in April or May and at this point some lambs will have already reached the desired weight of 40kgs-plus. The majority of finishing lambs are sold through the auction mart at Gisburn, but the farm also sells boxed lamb.

A number of the best examples are kept back and any that are not required for homebred production are sold at the pedigree breed sales. The highlight of the year for Hampshire Down Sheep Breeders Association members is the national show, which takes place at the Royal Three Counties showground. It is held as part of the Royal Three Counties Show, which is a June event.

Ewe numbers have peaked at 50 ewes, but the flock has been reduced in size to allow more time for looking after the cattle in the winter. However, Stephen does not rule out the prospect of retaining additional females post-lambing 2024 on the farm, which has been in the family for more than a century.

“I would like to keep a few more ewes, particularly because it gives me more to choose from when I am looking over the group to pick out breeding animals. If you look hard enough, you will always find something not to your liking with any sheep.

“At present, the flock is not performance recorded, but this is something that we plan to introduce next year as soon as the new season lambs are on the ground.

“In terms of show wins, it is unrealistic to be too ambitious at this stage, but one day I would love to have a champion at our HDSBA national show. That would be the icing on the cake, but meanwhile I am quite happy with the flock and I will continue to strive to improve the quality of my flock every year,” says Stephen.