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Masham breeder keeps flag flying for quality wool

13
Oct '09
L - R Thomas Gorst and Margaret McVoy with a Teeswater sheep
Teeswater wool is among the highest quality produced by any sheep breed in the UK, so it's no wonder that Cumbria breeder Margaret McVoy makes sure it's a trait she's keen to maintain in her pedigree flock at Mutton Farm, Killington, Kendal.

She's the third generation of the family to breed Teeswater sheep and is determined to see Teeswater tups retain their role as the sire of commercial Masham ewes – one reason why she also runs a flock of Dalesbred ewes to breed top quality Masham females.

Although a well-seasoned and successful exhibitor of Teeswater sheep, it's only in recent years that she has started to show fleeces. And it was a fleece from a Masham ewe bred at Mutton Hall that beat all-comers at Westmorland County Show in September and took the overall fleece championship.

Margaret, whose father Thomas Gorst has long been a renowned breeder of Teeswaters, has had her own Masham sheep from a very early age but set up her own Teeswater flock when she was 18. A few years ago Margaret also established a flock of Dalesbred ewes – there are now around 60 – to put to her own Teeswater tups to breed Mashams.

Although working full time as the personal assistant to the bursar at Sedbergh School, Margaret devotes much of her spare time to running her sheep flock which includes a busy summer showing schedule. Among some good wins this year was the Teeswater breed championship at Grayrigg and Selside Show.

“I retain around three Teeswater tup lambs every year and put them to Dalesbred ewes to produce Mashams. The Mashams are sold at the breed society's main autumn sale at Bentham while Teeswater tups are sold as shearlings at the official Teeswater sale at Leyburn,” explained Margaret who has been encouraged by the continuing popularity of the Masham in the face of competition from other commercial breeding ewes.

“This is only the third year that I've sold my own home-bred Masham gimmer lambs but demand is good and we averaged £59 at the Bentham sale last month,” says Margaret.

The Teeswater is one of the UK's rarest sheep numbering around 300 pedigree breeding ewes but despite its rarity the distinctive fleece of the breed is still among the finest and most valuable produced by any breed. Teeswater fleeces have been making up to £1.50 a kilo this year.

Despite the narrowing gene pool within the Teeswater breed, enthusiasts are striving to retain fleece quality as well as the required conformation traits.

“We like a fine fleece on our Teeswater sheep with a nice, even purl. We can get fleeces weighing 5-6kg from Teeswater shearlings,” says Margaret who believes the fleece quality of the breed has improved considerably over the years.

The family have always included fleece quality as an important selection criteria for the flock and three years ago decided to start showing fleeces as well as sheep.

“We're still learning, but we'd already picked up afew prize cards before we won the championship at Westmorland Show. The championship winner was a Masham fleece from a shearling ewe that we'd ear-marked before she was sheared,” says Margaret.

Stephen Ballinger, Regional Manager of the British Wool Marketing Board, said there had been a strong turnout of fleeces in competitions throughout the season.

“The standard at Westmorland Show was high in all categories and was typical of the growing interest in exhibiting fleeces of all breeds. The Teeswater is renowned for its fleece quality and the champion Masham fleece was a great example of the breed's reputation for good wool.”

British Wool Marketing Board


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