Breeds of animal
Animals on the smallholding
When we first thought about buying a smallholding, we were keen to involve ourselves with rare, endangered and traditional breeds of livestock, following the principles of the Rare Breed Society. We were also influenced by "Hugh Fearlessly Eats-it-all" and the River Cottage show.
To this end we keep Orpington hens of various colours including Buff, Gold laced and Black, the Orpington’s were developed in England in the town of Orpington in Kent during the 1880s. These large fowl are classified as heavy soft feather. They are brown egg layers and are greatly admired when prepared and penned for showing. The immense size of the Orpington’s and soft almost fluffy appearance together with their rich colour and gentle contours make them very attractive. Their feathering allows them to endure cold temperatures better than some other breeds. They are at home on free range or in relatively confined situations; and are docile. Hens exhibit broodiness and generally make good mothers.
Our lamb is primarily Southdown. The Southdown sheep has roamed the Sussex Downlands from time immemorial. Around 200 years ago, John Ellman of Glynde, near Lewes, in Sussex commenced a radical improvement of the breed by selection within the breed - no out crossing. His work was continued by Jonas Webb of Babraham in Cambridgeshire, who developed a somewhat larger animal, which was used in the creation of the other down breeds.
The peak of the Southdown's popularity was from about 1790 to the 1914-18 War. During this time, they were to be found on many of the large estates in flocks of 1000 or over, as well as being in the possession of yeoman farmers.
The other breed of lamb we have is the Wensleydale. The Wensleydale is an old English breed of long wool sheep from the Yorkshire Dales, renowned for its stature, lean meat and superb fleece. It is distinctive-tall, long bodied, and deep chested, with an alert head, clean face and dark skin. It is probably the heaviest of our indigenous breeds. Its magnificent long, lustrous, curling fleece is reputedly ‘the finest long wool in the world.
Recent testing has shown it to have the highest scrapie resistance of all sheep in Britain. This, together with its size, gives good reason to use it as a crossing sire on hill breeds. The female progeny have improved fleece and scrapie resistance which when put to a terminal sire, give heavy but lean lambs. Traditionally the Wensleydale is put to a Swaledale to yield a Masham ewe.
Dexter cows are our preference. Dexter cattle are an ancient dual-purpose Irish breed, the smallest of the British breeds. They originated as a hardy breed of small mountain cattle run on small family holdings. At the turn of the 20th century, Dexters became the show cattle of the English gentry.
As the 20th century progressed, Dexter numbers declined. In the 1970s, they were designated as rare and endangered. More recently, their attractiveness to small landholders has seen a significant increase in their numbers globally. As a result, the Dexter is the best example of a domestic cattle breed saved from extinction.
The pigs we keep on the smallholding are the Tamworth, the Large Black and the Gloucestershire Old Spots (GOS).
Tamworth pigs were developed in Staffordshire, England, from around the beginning of the nineteenth century. The breed is regarded as being of a rather primitive type with a long snout and rather pricked ears, and it has been described as possibly the purest representative of the native English pig. Its most distinguishing feature is its unusual golden-red colouring. (There are several theories as to the origin of that colouring – credit is given to variously to the introduction of a red boar from India, from Barbados and from Ireland.)
The Large Black Pedigree breed originates from the Old English Hog established in the 16th and 17th centuries. By the late 1880s, there were two distinct types of Large Black, one to be found in East Anglia and the other in Devon and Cornwall. However, the founding of the Large Black Pig Society in 1889 led to an increase in the exchange of stock between breeders in the two regions. In the early part of the 20th Century, Large Blacks were widely distributed throughout the country and were frequently crossed with Large Whites and Middle Whites to produce bacon and pork pigs. The Large Black Pedigree breed was also very successful in the show ring at this time: at Smithfield in 1919, the Supreme Championship was awarded to a Large Black sow that subsequently sold for 700 guineas. The same year the breed outnumbered all other breeds at the Royal Show when 121 Large Black pigs were exhibited.
With a pedigree dating back to 1913, Gloucester Old Spots are the oldest pedigree spotted pigs in the world. They are the traditional breed from the apple orchards of Gloucestershire.
Originally, from the Berkeley Vale region, the Gloucester Old Spots were traditionally known as the Orchard or Cottage Pig as they lived in gardens and smallholdings and were reared largely as domestic animals. The pigs are easily distinguished by the large black spots on their backs and the soft floppy ears.
Folklore claims the large black spots are bruises caused by the apples falling onto them as they foraged the orchard floors for food.
They make excellent mothers and thrive outdoors. Their independence and ability to produce healthy litters twice a year ensures they are fast becoming Britain's favourite organic pig with at least one herd in every county nationwide.
We also have ducks and geese but neither of these are rare, they are however pure breed. The ducks are Indian Runners. Indian Runners came from the East Indies and, as one would expect, they run rather than waddle. The name is fairly explicit, but it does not do justice to one of the most extraordinary of domestic ducks.
Often lumped in with the ‘light ducks’, they now have a show section all to themselves. They are unique in the extreme body shape and posture, looking to the inexperienced eye more like hock bottles than normal ducks. Yet, it was their utility value as egg layers that brought them and their fame to this country, where they were exhibited in Dumfries in 1876 and Kendal in 1896.
Records of stone carvings in Java seem to suggest an origin of two thousand years or more. The Europeans noted them in the mid 19th century, in Malaya (1851) and Lombok, Indonesia, (1856) where Alfred Wallace said they ‘walk erect, like penguins’. However, circumstantial evidence would suggest that oriental ducks reached Western Europe much earlier than the nineteenth century. Kenneth Broekman has alerted us to late sixteenth century Dutch records showing that van Houtman’s ship, the Ysselstein, carried a cargo of salted ‘pinguin ducks’. In addition, a number of Lowland breeds, such as the Huttegem, carry colour genes very similar to the Indian Runners. Examples of these mutations can be seen in seventeenth century Dutch paintings like those of the d’Hondecoeter family.
Our geese are called Chinese Geese. The Chinese is one of the post popular and well-known breeds of domestic goose. Unofficially, there are two kinds of Chinese geese: those that hate the world and everything that moves within it, and those which have to be picked up and carried to their shed. They are so tame that they prefer to stand around your feet and won't be driven. The sort you end up with depends partly on the strain, but mainly on how you rear them and treat them. They can be wonderful watchdogs - tame with their owners, but noisy when anything unusual is around.
Chinese come in two colours
(white and grey) and two types - the American exhibition bird and the heavier
traditional English type. They are lightweight geese, weighing between 8 and 12
lbs. Some are excellent egg-layers, managing over 80 per year, but a more
reasonable number of eggs is 30-40. Younger birds achieve higher figures. Older
geese produce fewer eggs.
All of the animals we keep are given as much space to behave in as natural a way as possible. This allows our animals to live a relatively stress free life.