Scottish & Borders Lleyn Sheep Breeders Club

As our club name suggests we represent Lleyn Sheep breeders in Scotland & the North of England

Lleyn makes waves in Orkney

Steven Metcalf One of the most northerly Lleyn breeders is Steven Metcalf of Work Farm, Orkney, where he runs a pedigree flock of 110 Lleyn ewes and 95 ewe lambs, along with over 200 commercial Shetland ewes and 110 breeding cows.
Island farming costs are inflated by across the water freight charges on everything which either arrives on, or leaves the islands. Consequently all live or dead stock "exported" to the mainland have to earn a sufficient premium to, at least, absorb the extra transport costs.

Steven Metcalf is a familiar face amongst the Orkney farming and business communities - he has been member, secretary or chairman of just about every Orkney farming committee, including Chairman of Orkney Mart on an historic day in 2001 - August 20th. , the day Orkney Mart held the first British livestock auction for six months; as the misery of Foot and Mouth drew to a close.
Steven is not an Orcadian by birth. He and father Eric "emigrated" to this county of islands in 1983 from their 400 acre hill farm at Alston in Cumbria

The Cumbrian farm was challenging with both high altitude and rainfall.
"The farm couldn't provide a decent living for two families, and I worked off the farm - as a dustman and a grave digger. It was obvious for me to stay in farming, we needed a bigger farm. To look south was too expensive, so it had to be north".

Despite being in the very far north, Orkney, kissed by the Gulf Stream, has deep, fertile soils and a surprisingly mild climate - providing a lengthy growing season.

When the Metcalfs bought Work Farm it was 316 acres, which although smaller than their 400 acre Cumbrian unit, carried many more livestock. Work Farm - 45 cows and 300 ewes. Cumbria - 30 cows and 240 ewes.

Between then and now the Metcalfs have expanded their enterprise to a total of 750 acres, 590 owned, the remainder rented. Approximately 190 acres is classified as "hill" - "all of a hundred feet high", which is utilised by 216 Shetland ewes.

Eric, although still living on the farm, has been retired for 12 years. Orkney Lleyn Ewes

Initially the Metcalfs ran Shetland ewes on Work, breeding some pure for replacements, crossing the remainder with Texel and North Country Cheviots.

"There were good markets for the cross-bred ewe lambs, but", explained Steven. "Although the Shetland ewe is a hardy little sheep, she needs to be young, which meant that a large percentage of the flock had to be bred pure, to maintain numbers and youth. The major problem was almost no market for the small, poor conformation pure wethers".

Farming on an exposed, treeless peninsula, the Metcalfs knew that if they were going to change breeds, a basic requirement was hardiness. Sheep that don't survive, don't' thrive!

It is a long and complicated journey from Orkney to Gaerwen market on the island of Anglesey, but in 1986, by car, boat and train, Eric Metcalf made this journey to a Lleyn Sheep Society sale . The result - the foundation of Lleyn pedigree flock Number 392 and the geographic expansion of the breed into one of its most northerly British outposts.

"From what we had learnt about the Lleyn, we understood the breed would handle our sometimes wild, wet and windy weather and produce good quality females as well as decent wethers", said Steven.

The first crop of Lleyn lambs and the performance of their dams, lived up to expectations. So the next year Eric Metcalf packed his suitcase and again made the lengthy trek to Gaerwen, seeking EA Accredited sheep to comply with the Highlands and Islands Sheep Health scheme, of which Steven has been Orkney secretary since the late 1980's.

Until recent years some Texel tups were used for crossing over the Metcalf's ewes. However by 2003 all sheep romancing duties were exclusively dealt with by Lleyn tups.

The current tup line up includes a "veteran", bought in the last Century from John Morton of Cumbria, a five shear from P.W. and M.L. Nettleton of North Yorkshire and a couple from Derek Steen of Roxburghshire.

Lleyn Ewes on the Orkneys"The Lleyn tups are very active sheep, with one able to "handle" 50 Shetland ewes", said Steven.

"The Lleyn cross lambs are also easily born, lively and quickly up on their feet, getting that vital first suck, as well as being really hardy. We lamb the Shetland ewes outside on the hill and only need to check them once a day".

The lambing percentage of these low maintenance ewes is around the 125% mark.

"We regard the pures as more precious. They're housed at the end of February and start lambing mid-April. Once they've lambed, they stay around the buildings for a day or two, depending on the weather. After a couple of days, their good, tight wool cover and natural hardiness, mean we can confidently turn them out".

The Metcalf's farm is a marvellous place on a sunny day, but when the weather is wet and windy, Work is totally exposed to everything the elements choose to throw. "There is next to no shelter for the sheep, and much of Orkney is the same", explained Steven. "And we're not the only ones up here who have realised that the Lleyn is well suited to the islands. Its tight coat, ability to thrive in challenging conditions, ease of management, while at the end of the day, producing a quality lamb carcase of either sex, make it an ideal sheep for Orkney".

The Metcalfs obviously retain their very best ewe lambs as flock replacements. The second draw are usually sold at Society sales in Carlisle, although in 2002, two bunches of shearlings were sold to Dumfries for re-stocking post Foot and Mouth. In 2003 they took 50 shearlings to Carlisle, selling to £100 per head.

Over half a dozen of their Lleyn tups are snapped up locally each year by either Orkney or Shetland farmers, who use them for crossing to produce breeding females. This local demand is rapidly growing.

The Orkney Meat abattoir, base of the hugely successful Orkney Island Gold beef and lamb marketing scheme, is in nearby Kirkwall.

This marketing scheme, launched in 1995, initially targeted Orkney beef at High Street butchers in the affluent areas of southern England, where consumers can afford to care where their meat comes from and how it is produced. Each side of beef is accompanied by the name and address of the farmer who produced it.

In 1999 Orkney Island Gold Lamb followed the path forged by the beef. Within 12 months 200 "Gold" lambs a week during the season, were being sold to southern butchers. Again certificates giving names and addresses of producers accompany the carcasses.

In 2003 the Orkney Meat abattoir underwent a major, (and disruptive) expansion programme, yet well over 14,000 "Gold" lambs slaughtered in the last three months of the year, went south to high paying, appreciative consumers.

Farmers receive a hefty 15p per kg premium if their lambs meet the "Gold" specifications - Light Gold is 16 - 20 kgs, Grade R3L or better. Heavy Gold - 20.5 - 23 kgs, again R3L or better.Lleyn Carcase

Remembering the days when his pure Shetland wethers were very difficult to market, Steven Metcalf is now in the joyous situation of selling almost all his finished Lleyn-sired lambs to qualify for the lucrative Orkney Island Gold premium.

Edgar Balfour, Managing Director of Orkney Meat, knows his livestock suppliers by the animals they send to the abattoir. "Steven Metcalf is a regular and much appreciated supplier of quality lambs", said Edgar. He selects his own lambs for slaughter and his knowledge and capability clearly shows through in the consistent accuracy of his selection of animals in optimum condition for the discerning High Street butchers we supply".

The Orcadians are friendly, open hearted, positive people. Their welcome to their wonderful islands is warm. To become fully integrated into this farming community however demands a couple of basics, one of the most important is the production of top quality stock which help to maintain the marvellous reputation of Orkney livestock farming.

It is obvious from his numerous farming committee positions, particularly his past role as mart Chairman, that Steven Metcalf, who now regards Orkney very much as home, has more than met all the requirements to be fully accepted by Orkney farmers.

His "importation" of a Welsh breed from hundreds of miles south has clearly passed a very demanding test of approval in a county where production of top quality livestock is paramount.



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