Highlighting heritage sheep

Derewent Valley, Tasmania, prime lamb producer Fiona Hume is on a mission


Sheep with "attitude" also taste good.

LEICESTER HERO: Derwent Valley sheep and wool producer Fiona Hume is hoping to hero the heritage sheep breed, the English Leicester.

LEICESTER HERO: Derwent Valley sheep and wool producer Fiona Hume is hoping to hero the heritage sheep breed, the English Leicester.

Derwent Valley, Tasmania wool and lamb producer Fiona Hume is carrying on her late father's legacy, by "heroing" the qualities of the heritage breed, the English Leicester.

Ms Hume runs what's believed to be Australia's largest English Leicester flock, on Arundel Farm, Macquarie Plains, on the banks of the Derwent River.

She said her late father, Bill, first started running English Leicesters in the 1950s.

"He felt they have attitude," Ms Hume said.

"They have gorgeous curls, they are very pretty - they are archetypal sheep.

"I thought, how can I make a go of this? I realised there was a niche market around English Leicesters, that was extending into restaurants."

Arundel Farm runs a flock of 200 English Leicester purebred ewes for meat, wool and sheepskins.

Rams are sourced from the Heazelwood family, Neon Richie, and George Willows.

"Dad originally started breeding English Leicesters in 1958, he originally purchased the rams to add body to our Polwarth flock," Ms Hume said.

Ms Hume said she was trying to build the profile of the English Leicester as a superior eating breed.

"English Leicester lambs have been sold to the Dark Mofo Winterfeast between 2017-2019, and slow cooked, Argentinian style."

English Leicesters took longer to mature, with lambs not ready for consumption until they reached eight months.

The flavour of English Leicester was full and rich, with the fat content adding a distinct and traditional taste.

"I would like a few chefs to do a proper blind tasting," she said.

"English Leicester meat tastes different to a three month old Southdown, that's been fattened very quickly."

State winner

Arundel Farm Lamb has also been chosen as a Tasmanian state winner in this year's Harvey Norman Delicious Produce Awards.

The farm sells lamb and hogget boxes, containing between 16-20kilograms of a variety of cuts from the whole animal.

They're available seasonally, with English Leicester being sold from April to October.

Carcases are hung for about nine days, before butchering.

The farm also runs Cormo Merinos, developed in Tasmania in the 1960s, by crossing Corriedales and Merinos, and English Leicester and Merino cross sheep, as prime-lamb mothers.

Ms Hume said she, and stockman Mat Bone, were running 700 crossbred English Leicester/Cormo ewes, 900 Cormo ewes and 600 wethers.

"The wether numbers are low at the moment, but we are transitioning to increasing ewe numbers," she said.

"We are moving away from weathers to ewes, so that we can get wool and lambs, rather than just wool - wool isn't worth what it once was."

Her plan was to increase productivity, and income, without overstocking the farm.

The crossbred ewes produced prime lambs, from White Suffolk, Texels, and Southdown rams, sourced from several properties, across Tasmania.

The crossbreds were joined from January 20, at a rate of one ram to 60-70 ewes, with the same ratio for the Cormos.

English Leicester ewes were traditionally joined from March 1, but Ms Hume said she was shifting the pattern earlier, to produce prime lambs.

One ram was being joined to 50 ewes.

Lambing started in winter, to coincide with the spring flush, with most prime lambs sold as stores, in mid-November, or to Tasmanian Quality Meats.

"We maybe keep 100-200 through summer and into autumn, while the English Leicester lambs and cross-breds are sold as part of our 'lamb boxes'," she said.

Weed seeds

Shearing took place in early to mid-November, to try and avoid barley and spear grass in the wool.

"We avoid fly strike by shearing then," she said.

The Cormo's returned 19-micron wool, with the crossbreds running at 26m and English Leicester the coarsest of all, at 36m.

"Its not popular, and at 50cents a kilogram, it doesn't pay for the shearing," Ms Hume said.

"I do better by selling English Leicester sheepskins."

Pasture, made up of cocksfoot, fescue, ryegrass and phalaris, was renovated annually, and Ms Hume said she was keen to increase species diversity.

"We need deep rooted perennials, due to drought and pasture pests, such as corbie grubs and cockchafers," she said.

"We are trying to manage barley grass through better grazing and have shifted from set stocking,

Arundel was using electric fencing for the first time in 40 years.

"Our stockman Mat has experience with cell grazing / rotational grazing methods," she said.

"We make traditional oaten hay for sheep and cattle during winter and tough times, and occasionally buy in pellets.

"This has worked well during poor autumn and summer, to keep the English Leicester lambs healthy, as they need supplementation during summer.

"We also use bentobite blocks regularly and prior to and during lambing we use double iodine blocks."

Ms Hume admitted to initially not feeling she was a real sheep producer.

Before coming back home to the farm, Ms Hume worked as a scientist, in Antarctica and Macquarie Island, studying penguins, albatross and seals.

"I love sheep, but I don't live and breath sheep - I feel like a bit of an imposter, I don't feel I am a true blue, dinky-di farmer, but people say I am," she said.

"I am interested in ecology and sustainable farming."

Revegetation had been a significant part of the management of Arundel, since the late 1980s.

"I was a very, very distressed teenager, worried about the state of the planet," she said.

Old blocks were continually being replanted.

"We'll put in 2200 plants this year, and I am pretty passionate about having something that replicates nature," she said.

"Our ancestors went to great lengths to remove the trees, and now I am putting them back in again."

She said she worked with the Derwent Catchment Projet and Greening Australia to provide shelter.

"If you shelter the ewes, they will go there and find a nice quiet space, under a sheoak or a gum tree, to give birth."

Ms Hume admitted to becoming distracted and often found herself birdwatching, when out on the farm.

'I am in awe of how magnificent the tree blocks are, we have a very good stockman, and he basically manages the place," she said.

She said she had never changed her address, even when working all over the world.

"I guess my heart has always been here because of my Dad - I had a wonderful relationship with him.

"Dad never wanted to leave the farm, or sell it, and I loved my Dad, and I loved the farm.

"I am still here with Mum, it's a bit by default, but maybe I was always destined to do this."

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