On the farm with Matt Legge

By Tony Ridd

I’m sure we all know where lambs come from. But, there is a science to successful breeding and it starts with the pedigree flock! I went to see Matt Legge full time NFU Secretary on the Isle of Wight and part-time farmer with his award winning Duxmore Flock of pedigree Suffolk Sheep…

The vast majority of sheep we see grazing around the Island are sheep from ‘commercial’ farms. That is to say they are bred for consumption and as such, are likely to be a cross between two or more breeds.

When breeding sheep for the commercial market the farmer takes many factors into consideration, cost of building up the flock, timing of lambing and length of time it takes to fatten, are just some. The ram is very important and there are specialist sales where these commercial farmers will go to buy the right and best (that their money can buy) ram or rams for breeding.

As with everything else in life there are ‘fashionable’ breeds that come and go, but one breed that is favoured by many is the Suffolk. I asked Matt why? “They are good sires, the lambs grow quickly if desired, or can be kept for twelve months without getting over fat, they are good natured and importantly give what a lot believe is a better flavour than most other breeds.”

Although Matt kept Suffolk sheep when he was younger, he only started his pedigree Suffolk flock in 2005 buying ten ewes from two Island breeders Allan King and Paddy Margham.

His focus is on producing good strong ram lambs, with good conformation, which he hopes to sell to other pedigree breeders and farmers in the commercial sector.

To increase his presence in the market he exhibits his sheep at shows, like the Isle of Wight Agricultural Show, last year winning Individual and Group Champion, Best Ram and Overall Highest Points Scorer. Then a week later at the Hampshire and New Forest Show he surpassed this, and surprised himself, beating off more experienced breeders to win Best Ewe in Breed and Group Championship. The Best Ewe going on to win Overall Supreme Champion and the Group getting Reserve Overall Championship. The success list goes on at other even more prestigious shows such as the Three Counties and SE Show. Some pedigree flocks bloodlines, have been in the family for four generations so Matt has a lot of experience to compete against.

He puts his success down to ‘inheriting’ a ‘good stockmans eye’ from his late father. And with animals you need dedication and commitment.

The Pedigree breeder, co-ordinates his lambing to start as close after 1st January as possible. Matt explains that most pedigree livestock birthdays, are deemed to be the 1st January because of showing classes and sales. Competitions start in May so it’s important to have as much time before, to prepare the lambs. This means that the ram goes in with ewes in August.

Matt is growing his pedigree flock on a tight budget and having bought some ewes and two rams at market this year, the Duxmore Flock currently stands at twenty six ewes and three rams, with extra’s kept back to add to the flock in 2010 and for the sales. Lambing took three weeks and has produced a good crop of lambs. Commercial farmers would normally want twins, but Matt is happy if each ewe were to only produce a fit, healthy single lamb, that gets to suckle all his (preferably!) or her mothers milk.

For most of the year they get to graze at leisure on Arreton Down and at Quarr Abbey. They are brought indoors (a large airy barn), early December for lambing and once the lambs are a few days old and weather permitting, go out in the day and back in the barn for the night. This happens until well into March. Already, after only a couple of weeks Matt has his eye on a handful of prospective show winners, that will no doubt get special treatment in their build up to the shows.

The pick of last years lambs have also been brought in to the barns and sheared. They now have to put a bit of weight on in preparation for the shows later in the year.

Late last year Matt was invited to apply to be a judge for the Suffolk Breed Society, a very prestigious position. He was successful and is now one of only five appointed Suffolk judges in the South East!

There are currently three Pedigree Suffolk flocks on the Island with many other breeds of pedigree flocks, Matt is keen to encourage other people into keeping pedigree stock and showing them at competitions.

To find out more about Matt’s sheep or to contact him visit www.duxmore.co.uk.