ROUNDOAK SUCCEEDS IN BREEDING SUMMER LAMBS
Roundoak Farm based at Sutton Valence near Maidstone is one of the countries largest breeders of Hebridean sheep in the UK and this year has been successful in producing summer lambs.
Conventional sheep farmers normally lamb once a year; the ram is introduced to the ewes normally in the autumn for lambs to be born in the spring. The gestation period for a ewe is five months. The same procedure has always been adopted with the Hebridean breed. The Hebridean breed was until recently on the endangered list but thanks to breeders such as Roundoak and the efforts of Ruth and Norman Coles the owners of the farm the breed have had a renainnsance.
There is keen new interest in the breed for its fine quality meat, as it is lean and low in cholesterol. The only problem is the breed is very slow growing, it can take up to two years for the breed to fully mature, unlike many local cross breeds that are born in spring then fattened and slaughtered in Autumn. This does not make them commercially viable. It is a well-known fact that slows growing plants and animals are healthier and taste better.
Roundoak has found a niche market; with its unique brand the farm supplies many quality establishments who are not interested in producing volume food but quality food, which is what their reputation is based on. The farm have and do supply The Mulberry Tree at Boughton Monchelsea nr Maidstone ,The Elite Pubs chain, which includes The Great House at Hawkhurst, The Farm House at West Malling, The dirty Habit at Hollingbourne, The Vineyard at Lamberhurst and the Gun at Chiddingly in Sussex to name but a few. Luckhurst the well known family butcher at Smarden also have a close connection with the farm, Plus many individuals who visit the farm.
As a result of demand outweighing supply the farm had to look at opportunities to increase stock levels more evenly over the 12 month period to be able to supply clients fresh meat thought-out the year and not just seasonally. The options were simple, look at alternative breeds, there are only very few breeds that can produce lambs throughout the year, or trial a new breeding programme with a selected few Hebrideans. The latter was the preferred option, due to the passion and love of the breed. Everybody the farm spoke to was negative even the “so called Experts“ said it could not be done!
In 2011 the ram was introduced to a selected few Ewes in March, this amazing hardy little assessor of the Western isles of Scotland produced bonny little lambs in August of 2011. As a result, this year 20 ewes were put with the ram, and our first full-on lambing season in August 2012 began. So far some eight lambs have been born, with little problems at a time of year that is weather friendly!
Next year the farm hopes to expand the programme further.
The Farm is also home to some 62 Highland cows and welcomes visitors by prior arrangement
Round Oak Farm is one of the UKs largest breeders of Hebridean sheep based at Sutton Valence, Maidstone. The farms activities have resulted in the breed no longer being on the endangered list.
The farm now supplies many fine eating houses and butchers around central Kent, including the Elite chain of pub restaurants which include the Great house at Hawkhurst, The Dirty Habit at Hollingbourne, The Farm House at West Malling, and The Gun at Chiddingly in Sussex. The well known and award winning restaurant The Mulberry tree at Boughton Monchelsea also feature Roundoak Hebridean meat on the menu.
Butchers that regularly feature the meat include Luckhurst at Smarden and the farm is in discussions with Rickwoods at Bearsted.
As the farm has grown, so has the demand for Hebridean lamb. The meat takes longer to mature than conventional breeds, therefore it is leaner and far more tasty. We have found it is also low in cholesterol which is an important factor in modern living.
In this new era we have realised that a lot of people like to take an interest in knowing where the food they eat comes from and by supplying the meat to local eating house, the keenest of chefs are very interested in exploring new ways to feature local produce in their menus and prove their individualism.
As a result of the revived interest in Hebridean meat, demand soon outstripped supply, mainly due to the longer maturity period. Round Oak Hebridean and their customers like fresh meat.
As a result the farm have experimented with an elongated lambing season, it was relatively unknown if this would be possible with this particular breed. With a selected numbers of ewes it was put to the test, with a 100% success rate, resulting in the first summer lambs to be born at Round Oak in August 2011. An unusual site in the Kentish countryside at this time of year!