Ollie Dean, of Brampton, in Cumbria, talks to Wendy Short about coming third in the NSA’s Next Generation shepherd award.

Ollie Dean fought off stiff competition to take third place in the National Sheep Association’s 2023 ‘Next Generation’ shepherd award, which is given to young shepherds who demonstrate exceptional skills and enthusiasm.

He sells breeding tups from his pedigree Dutch Texel flock and is striving for increased efficiency on the family farm in Cumbria.

Ollie enjoyed being quizzed on a range of subjects during the competition, which was held at the North Sheep event in 2023 and is open to entrants aged 26 and under.

“I had already planned to visit the North Sheep event and I thought the competition would be a good opportunity to test my knowledge,” said Ollie. “I was quizzed by the examiner on a range of subjects, including all-terrain vehicle safety checks, sheep worming protocol and pre-tupping ram examination.

The Northern Farmer: Oliver Dean and his sheepdog, Skye

“I was delighted to hear that I had been awarded third place and it was reassuring to know that I am on the right track with my flock management, although I still have a lot to learn.”

The 25 year old works alongside his father Edward at Kirkhouse Farm, near Brampton, where they look after 350 commercial ewes and 30 pedigree Dutch Texels, as well as a 130-cow suckler herd.

The pedigree Dutch Texels were introduced in 2014; partly to add interest and because Ollie had been impressed with an initial trial of the breed across some of his Texel ewes. He pointed to their potential for producing a high-quality carcase, a trait underlined by their frequent success at the national fatstock shows.

“One of my shearling tups won the overall breed championship at the Dutch Texel Sheep Society show and sale at Carlisle auction mart in 2019, and another took the breed championship at Skelton in the same year,” said Ollie. “More recently, a shearling tup won first prize at Hexham Mart’s annual ram sale.”

The Northern Farmer: Oliver Dean and his shearling tup, which won first prize at Hexham Auction Mart in 2022

The lambing period at Kirkhouse begins in mid-March, with all the ewes housed and turned out as soon as the weather permits. The current lambing percentage is about 180 per cent, with the father-and-son team working towards raising the figure to the target 200.

“Finished lambs start around weaning time in mid-July,” he explained. “Most will be away by Christmas time, with a small quantity of concentrate feed offered, if necessary. Housing lambs is not an option because the cattle occupy the buildings in winter.

“In an ideal situation, the entire finished lamb group would have been marketed by late October and we are trying to reduce finishing times. The late-born lambs have historically remained on the farm, but we are looking into the option of selling them as stores in the future.”

Ollie’s competitive success is not limited to shepherding skills contests and despite being relatively new to sheepdog trialling, he won the North Westmorland Sheepdog Trials Society’s new handlers section last year with his two-and-a-half-year-old bitch, Skye.

“It is very useful to have a well-trained sheepdog and I have recently acquired a young puppy to follow on behind Skye,” he said. “I really enjoy trialling and train my dogs every day. Trialling encourages me to spend time bonding with my dogs and gives me the chance to go off the farm and have a break away from my daily routine.”

The sheep industry is undergoing a period of change and there is a renewed focus on business efficiency, commented Ollie, who returned home after graduating in 2019 with a degree in agriculture from Newcastle University. At Kirkhouse, where the family has farmed since 1970, electronic identification (EID) is helping to drive flock performance and it is also used for managing the cattle.

“The combination of EID and regular weighing is useful for managing the growing lambs, for example, as any stragglers can be separated off for supplementary feeding. The system will also highlight any ewe which is not performing to expectations.

"She may have lost her lambs post-turnout, or perhaps not reared her lambs sufficiently well. She can then be culled and replaced with a female that has greater potential to make a valuable contribution to flock profitability.

“EID is just one element of our overall commitment to the family farm and our efforts to ensure that the business has a successful future,” said Ollie.