SWALEDALES ~ TRIUMPHANT IN RINGS

 

Roy Nelson

 

Lambert Coverdale meets Roy Nelson

 

When setting off to interview top Swaledale breeder C Nelson & Sons, I was aware that my knowledge of this breed was limited. My journey took me to this quite remote hamlet beyond Skipton, and I was surprised to learn that he was winning top butchers' lamb classes at such venues as Smithfield.

So how does a man producing 52 kilo pure-bred Swaledale wether butchers' lambs go on to take the championship at Skipton's Christmas fat stock show? Last year's first 100 wethers weighed in at an average of 47.6 kilos by the way, and Roy's overall average topped 43 kilos.

Part of the answer may be that Roy is looking for size, correct mouths, sound feet and a good, hard coat that will turn the water and keep out the wind - all as nature intended - when he is buying replacement tups.

The ewes live out on what they can pull; up to early February they are then supplemented with hay and sugar beet pellets and get up to 0.5lb of cake, though in fairness, this regime has changed little over the past 50 years. With a lamb crop of about 140 per cent, feeding ewes carrying twins is essential if they are to milk, though Roy is careful to select only from those ewes that are natural mothers. This philosophy is also implemented when buying in rams, as those which demonstrate the power he is looking for have also been milked well as lambs themselves.

With Roy's stock having won the championship of the Swaledale section at the two most recent Smithfield fat stock shows and the breed championship at the 2003 Winter Fair, the Scottish equivalent, this would all endorse that he is getting his job about right. His attention to breeding for conformation resulted in four better types of ewe and shearling averaging £660. He also turned out some 20 shearling tups which ranged in price from £500 to £2,500.


Roy's dedication to producing the ideal butchers'lamb resulted in him prior to FMD winning four Christmas fat stock classes at Skipton with a pen of Swaledales, a pen of Mules, a pen of Mashams and a pen of Suffolk crosses all in the same day. This makes the point that if you start right or with the right ingredients, the end product is also going to be right.

His most recent Smithfield Show winners left home at 49 kilos, weighed in at Smithfield at 95.5 kilos for the pair and killed out at over 51 per cent, proving the possibilities which can be borne out of good breeding and husbandry. It also illustrates what can be achieved from a farm which stands at 1,000 to 1,200 feet above sea level and from a hill which rises from 1,300 to 1,750 feet and boasts one of the largest limestone pavements in the country - and all land is either in an SSSI or ESA rating.

At least half the gimmer hoggs are wintered at home as Roy believes if they get too good a first winter, they won't go on to do the job for which they were bred.

The gimmer hoggs are also sold at Skipton as are the draft ewes, on the basis of having built up regular customers over the years. Butchers' lambs are all finished outside and latterly trough-fed in order to be sold off from early December to the end of March. This then leaves the way clear to start lambing from about 7 April, the ewes having been scanned at the end of January. This is especially important to identify shearlings carrying twins as these are then lambed near home but still outdoors. Another criteria used when Roy is selecting stock isthat they need to be able to fend for themselves, as he firmly believes that so many of our inherent sheep problems could be greatly reduced by more stringent selection.

Roy mentioned the point that the Swaledale will thrive across the country on a diverse topography ranging from the felltop, growing to a sustainable size or down to the Vale of York, where it will happily run with a pair of lambs.