A passion for naturally-reared, quality food and the desire to
share that with others has led Jo Kemp to produce her own traditional
beef and lamb.
Nick and Jo Kemp with their Shetland sheep
Jo and her husband Nick began breeding Shetland sheep eight years
ago at Breoch Park, New Abbey, near Dumfries.
A year later the foundation females arrived on the 50-acre holding
for their Dexter herd, Jo achieving the long-held ambition of her
late father to run the small, hardy breed which are believed to
be descended from the native black Celtic cattle of old.
“I had been interested in the Dexter for a long time before
I started the herd,” said Jo.
“The plus-points for this little breed are that it’s
hardy and can live out all the time. It doesn’t damage the
ground in the way other heavier breeds do and the food value of
the meat is superb.
“They don’t need extra feeding which saves on the
price of grain which is increasing. This actually improves the
fat content when just grazed on grass and haylage. They are reared
in a very traditional way,” she added.
A few foundation females were bought from Veronica Scholfield’s
Harron herd at Ivegill, near Carlisle but Jo decided to close the
herd after foot and mouth, during which time she lost the Shetland
sheep in the cull, because of further disease threats, particularly
The stock bull Breoch Sultan, male champion at the
Show, with a potential stock bull calf by him
and its dam.
The Breoch herd now numbers 26 head which includes nine breeding
females. Flying the breed and the Breoch flag, Jo took the male
championship at this year’s Great Yorkshire Show with her
five and a half year old stock bull Breoch Sultan, out of one of
the original Harron cows, Sunbeam, and by the AI bull Apple Joe.
Other AI bulls used recently are Moomin Jupiter and Copthorne
Jo aims to breed a ‘genuine small cow’ and, since
the dwarfing gene has been identified she, like other breeders,
is avoiding those with the gene. Thus the likelihood of a bulldog
calf is now vastly reduced.
By selective breeding she plans to increase breeding female numbers
to around 30 so that she can meet the needs of an increasing demand
for Dexter beef in the area.
Joe and breeders of three other traditional beef cattle – Longhorn,
Highland and Belted Galloway – have joined forces under the
banner of Solway Natives to market their produce through direct
With current constraints on their individual production, working
together gives greater scale and continuity of supply for their
customers, as well as saving on costs.
All the Dexter beef is hung for a minimum of three weeks, if not
four, by a local butcher before being cut and vacuum packed, most
selling chilled although there is a supply from the freezer. Carcases
typically weight 200 to 210kg and they aim to butcher half a dozen
Cattle for rib and other on the bone joints have to be finished
before 24 months old which they are able to do easily, unlike some
other native breeds. Beef as old as 40 months when killed has produced
tender, well-marbled meat and Dexter beef is renowned for its quality
Commercial farmers are put off Dexter cattle and Shetland sheep
owing to their small size but Jo has been trying to persuade them
that it makes commercial sense to use the breed as a suckler cow.
“Like the Shetland sheep, the Dexter because of its pelvis
has the ability to produce a big calf such as by a Limousin bull.
They are a dual purpose animal and have plenty of milk and some
breeders buy an extra calf and double-suckle them,” she said.
At around half the weight of continental type suckler cows, they
require half the grazing as well as few inputs.
While the number of Dexter breeding cows in 2005 came to more
than 5,000 in the UK, the Shetland sheep are more rare, with 1,570
lambs reared in 2006 from 1,266 breeding females.
Shetland ram lambs in one of the colour markings Jo favours.
Jo and Nick are breeding their sheep for the meat and the wool.
The meat is more difficult to market than the Dexter beef but around
35 lambs are finished each year. More recently they have sold mutton
which has proved popular. Carcase weights for the sheep are between
12kg and 18kg.
Unlike the more commercial type of white-woolled sheep kept on
the breed’s native Shetland, Jo is breeding a flock with
a diversity of colourings.
While white is the preferred fleece colour for the British Wool
Marketing Board which can earn up to £1 a kg, breeders are
trying to set up a marketing campaign under licence from the board
with a mill in Yorkshire which will add value to the coloured wool,
hopefully earning around £5 a kg.
“Breeding and producing our own meat gives us a better quality
of life and I’m trying to send out a message to people,” said
“It’s an extensive system but you can run more cattle
on the same acreage and the cows and sheep can be producing well
into their teens. They are easier managed which is important these
days when people can’t afford to employ staff. It’s
all down to economics in the end,” she added.
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