By Chris McCullough

INVESTING in a different sheep breed always incorporates an element of risk, but for one Northern Ireland farmer ‘going Dutch’ has been very economically beneficial.

During a visit to the Royal Welsh Show a few years ago, Edward Adamson first laid eyes on Dutch Spotted sheep and decided the breed would incorporate well into his own sheep farming business.

Edward farms on the east coast of Northern Ireland at Kilroot, Carrickfergus, right beside Belfast Lough and the Irish Salt Mines. Having historically been a dairy and sheep farm, in 2005 Edward decided to quit milking cows and focus on the sheep.

The Scottish Farmer:

He now runs a large sheep flock of over 800 ewes, as well as 60 suckler cows, and is the Northern Ireland development officer for the National Sheep Association. Edward farms 150 acres of his own and rents a further 250 acres on which to graze the livestock and make silage on.

His flock consists of predominantly Lleyn ewes but he also has 50 Clun Forest ewes, 50 Ile de France ewes and 25 Dutch Spotted Sheep ewes in the mix. Edward’s interest in the Dutch Spotted sheep first started when he saw them at that show and really liked the look of the sheep.

That interest spawned into a purchase of three ewes from the Netherlands and now Edward is starting to export the breed around the world.

The Dutch Spotted breed dates back to around 1880 and they were originally kept in the western part of Holland between the cities of Leiden, Utrecht and Rotterdam. During the 1950s, farmers started making use of the specific qualities of the original Dutch Spotted sheep by crossing them with other breeds, such as the Texel, or Zwartbles, to breed a sheep with greater profitability, now the modern day Dutch Spotted sheep.

The 'Spotties' are popular within Holland, Europe, the UK, Ireland and further afield. Farmers are finding the breed attributes include a quality carcase, high milk yield, easy lambing, hard feet, mobility and easy temperament – as witnessed by the strong trade for the breed's official sales under the auspices of the Dutch Spotted Sheep UK breed society.

The Scottish Farmer:

Edward said: “I first saw Dutch Spotted sheep at the Royal Welsh Show and was very impressed by them, so much so that I decided to get some of my own. My initial thoughts were that they would appeal to the hobby farmer just keeping a few sheep mainly as pets. They were pretty looking and very quiet. Now, the breed is becoming very popular with small and larger sheep farmers alike.

“In 2018, I invested in three Dutch Spotted Sheep, importing them from the Netherlands and then started to breed my own animals. I think the Dutch Spotted Sheep can be sold as the friendliest sheep in the world.

“Not only am I breeding full pedigree sheep, but I also cross the breed with some commercial ewes and have produced excellent quality lambs with conformation way above what I expected,” said Edward.

The Scottish Farmer:

Edward’s pure-bred Lleyn ewes are used to breed from and these produce commercial lambs for sale. He is a member of the Co-op Lamb Producer Group, which provides a small bonus to lamb prices when killed at the meat plant.

“The largest part of my sheep enterprise is with Lleyn sheep,” said Edward. “I sell them as breeding sheep and commercially too. They normally kill out around 50 percent and I aim for a carcase weight of 20kg. At the moment, prices are good around £4.45 per kg deadweight, plus bonuses,” he said.

Edward is currently flushing a batch of eight Dutch Spotted ewes with a view to, hopefully, harvesting 50 eggs to transplant into some Lleyn recipient ewes which will give him a bumper crop of lambs next spring in February.

The Scottish Farmer:

He said: “I have a batch of Lleyn recipient females ready for the eggs from eight Dutch Spotted ewes. I’m hoping each ewe will produce an average of six eggs, allowing two eggs to be transplanted into every recipient.

“I’d be hopeful of 50 to 60 lambs in February as there is strong demand for live sheep, as well as for semen and embryos, both locally and overseas. Our flock has a high health status and is scrapie monitored.

“I find the breed to be very quiet, have excellent growth rates from grass, kill out at more than 50%, producing superb meat quality, with some achieving E3s. They make very good mothers and normally lamb at 200%,” said Edward.

The market for Dutch Spotted sheep in Northern Ireland is quite buoyant and now breeders overseas are also showing an interest in Edward’s breeding. “The spotty markings on the sheep's fleeces are proving very attractive to other breeders,” Edward said.

“I have sent other breeds’ semen to breeders in Canada and USA, and now have enquiries for the Spotties from America, Europe and further afield. There are currently no shows happening anywhere thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic so all my marketing is carried out on social media through my facebook page.”

As wool is currently not worth a lot of money, he is trying to find niche markets for the unique fleece from Dutch Spotted Sheep. “Not everyone wants a dark coloured fleece as it cannot be dyed,” said Edward. “However, the wool from the Dutch Spotted Sheep is excellent quality and naturally coloured.

"I have sent a few fleeces off to be spun by local weavers who anticipate that it will produce a sought after, unique product. It is my goal to find a niche market for this wool to help add value to the breed,” he added.