A report from Mr Tim Bevan the Estate Manager on the first time in the History of The National Botanic Garden of Wales they purchased their own livestock and why they chose Llanwenog Sheep
Our Thanks go to Mr Tim Bevan and to the Garden's Magazine 'YR ARDD' for their kind permission to enable us to reprint the article
There were many changes on the farm estate of NBGW in 2008 but two were of major significance.
in May we were awarded National Nature Reserve Status by CCW, and for the very first time in the Garden's history we purchased our own livestock.
These stock purchases are part of an exciting new collaboration with Coleg Sir Gar, Gelli Aur that started last summer. It was a dovetailing of two needs that is proving to be of great benefit to both partners – we needed our own livestock to manage the species rich grasslands found on the NNR and Coleg Sir Gar needed a beef and sheep resource to help with their teaching. Following much deliberating on the partnership agreement the college kindly agreed to put up some capital to finance the purchase of breeding stock. So on the 23rd August 2008 myself, my son Sam and Lyn Richards (Lecturer and Partnership Coordinator at Coleg Sir Gar) took ourselves up to the 49th Annual Show and Sale of Llanwenog Sheep at Llanybydder Mart.
Awaiting us were ranks of pens filled with the most attractive black faced sheep in Wales all neatly trimmed and washed to show off their best features – a fine black head free from speckles with a small tuft of wool on the forehead, short thin ears, a compact body standing squarely on black legs free from speckles and wool. The fleeces are white, short and dense with fine wool ideal for spinning (perhaps another venture for the NNR/farm springs to mind?).
A warm reception awaited us from other Llanwenog owners pleased to see the breed coming to the Botanic Gardens and helping to expand its numbers further. On a day that was probably better for buyers than vendors (lucky for us) we finished up with taking home 70 excellent quality ewes and two rams all from renowned breeders. A nucleus of good breeding that will stand us well for the future. The rams joined the ewes on the 13th October 2008 following some necessary veterinary work, such as vaccines to prevent abortion, and so we now await mid March 2009 for hopefully a crop of fine healthy and mostly twin lambs!
So why did we choose the Llanwenog?
There are several reasons but one foremost in our thinking is that it is a rare breed and the most local breed to the Botanic Gardens. Conservation is in our mission statement (alright Llanwenogs are not plants) and conserving genes of a rare breed of sheep that could otherwise be lost for future breeders is a noble action. The fact that it is local may also prove useful making it suited to local conditions, such as a dense fleece to keep out the rain, black feet more resistant to foot rot, and maybe a digestive system than can cope with soil mineral deficiencies common in this area.
Otherwise the breed is docile, not too large (useful when the shepherd is getting long in the tooth) and prolific , we can expect a lambing percentage in excess of 170% if we manage them well. Bare in mind the costs of keeping a ewe if she only produces one lamb.
The eating quality of the lamb is also excellent, with the meat reported to be of "a soft grain with good marbling and a sweet texture". In a recent survey carried out at prominent London restaurants which compared 10 different sheep breeds the Llanwenog emerged as having the best eating quality and taste. This is good news for our plans to start selling Llanwenog lamb this season.
If you are not already aware the farm is organic and the Llanwenog is an ideal organic sheep, it's not too big, it does well on grass and forage, only needing a small supplement of bought in organic sheep cake (very expensive!). It does not need lots of medicines and we can run a self contained flock – that is breeding all our replacements. This avoids buying in new diseases from other flocks.
We are so fortunate to have such a marvellous and informative attraction in Carmarthenshire and urge you to visit. To see the Llanwenog Sheep of course but also the outstanding Garden. I am sure you will enjoy the visit no matter what time of the year you come.
More Details at www.gardenofwales.org.uk