Northumberland Show Welcomes Rare Breed Sheep

Lambing season is upon us, and farmers across the region are eyeing up the latest batch of newborns for potential champions at next month’s Northumberland County Show.

One such farmer is Rebecca Wilson of West Woodfoot Farm, Slaley in Northumberland, who has a flock of fifty breeding ewes, specialising in five rare breeds; Teeswaters, Herdwicks, Cheviots, Kerry Hills and Llanwenogs.

The Henson family – from left, Rebecca Wilson, Libby Henson and Adam Henson.

The Henson family – from left, Rebecca Wilson, Libby Henson and Adam Henson.

Rebecca has been instrumental in the launch of a new class at the Northumberland County Show: ‘British Rare Breed Sheep’, and her business, Tynedale Rare Breeds, have sponsored the section.

Vice Chairman of the, Robert Raine, explained,
“We’re excited by this development as we’ve had a growing number of requests for this class. With the location of the show being close to Herdwick breeding heartlands of Cumbria, the Wensleydales from Yorkshire, plus the Northumbrian Cheviots, we expect some of the entrants will represent local sheep. Hopefully however we’ll see some really unusual sheep. It would be marvelous for the public to see all these rare breeds!”

Rebecca has lived in the Tyne Valley for 20 years moving to West Woodfoot in 2011, but was brought up on Cotswold Farm Park in Gloucestershire where her father Joe Henson began keeping rare breeds in the 1960s. Rebecca told us “It started out as a hobby, with only two Gloucester cows and two Gloucester Old Spot pigs, became a lifelong passion when he provided a home for a collection of rare breeds from nearby Whipsnade Zoo.”

In 1973 Joe Henson was a founder member of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) and was honoured in 2011 for his outstanding contribution to the trust. The same year he was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to conservation. Sadly, Joe passed away in 2015, but the family have generously donated a trophy in his name to commemorate his contribution to farming, conservation of rare breeds and his inspiration to them.

All of the Henson children have pursued successful careers in agriculture and environment, with Rebecca’s sister, Libby Henson, renowned expert in rare breeds and Director of pedigree software company Grassroots, kindly travelling from Exeter to undertake the judging of the section. Louise Henson, MD of the Forest Peoples Programme, and farms rare breed cattle. Their brother, Adam Henson, who now runs the family farm, is well known as an author and television presenter on BBC’s Countryfile. Cotswold Farm Park is a showcase for at-risk breeds and is now one of the region’s major tourist attractions.

Rebecca moved to the north east in the late 1980s when she married husband Nick, a Geordie, who came home to run the family firm. She spent ten years working for the BBC in Newcastle, including directing the news and working as First Assistant Director on the children’s drama Byker Grove. Rebecca explained, “When our daughter left home to go to University we decided to move house and bought West Woodfoot. We were supposed to be down-sizing, but we have more land and less house! I got back to my roots and decided to get some sheep. My hobby has progressed into a business and I now breed rare breed pedigree stock for sale and plan to start selling my meat, in packs. I have been concentrating on getting interest from local restaurants and pubs, and now have quite a list of interested buyers. I just have to breed them now!”

Rebecca went on,
“I am absolutely delighted that the Show committee have agreed to run a British Rare Breed Sheep section, I’m sure Dad would have approved. I have been spreading the word to breeders and I hope that we will see Manx Loaghtans, originally from the Isle of Man, they are a primitive breed with multiple horns; Boreray, Devon & Cornwall Longwool; Whiteface Woodlands and Castle Milk Moorits.”

Rachel Raine, who recently took the reins from her parents as the Sheep Section’s Chief Steward, said;
“I would encourage anybody who wants to show off their sheep to come to the Northumberland County Show. Not only is it a brilliant advertisement for your flock but it is an incredible social occasion. After the stresses of lambing time it is a day to show, and be proud of, what you have worked so hard to achieve.”

YoungsRPS are one of the show’s Principal Partners, and sponsors of the Sheep Section. Director, Charles Raine (no relation to Rachel and Robert Raine) told us, “The Sheep Section is vibrant, interesting and constantly aims to move with the times. I always enjoy the show as it’s a great opportunity for us to meet clients old and new, and raise awareness of our services in a relaxed setting. I am very much looking forward to seeing British rare breed sheep at the show, and I am sure it will be a great draw for the public.”

Northumberland County Show is a traditional agricultural event held at Bywell Hall, Near Stocksfield on Bank Holiday Monday 29th May 2017 from 9am until 6pm. Schedules are out now, and potential competitors should remember that the closing date for entries is 29th April 2017.

Northumberland Show

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