Meet Fiona Harley
Name: Fiona Harley
Flock Name: Rumbling Bridge
County: Perth & Kinross
What is your farm system?At Craiglaw we have a 70 head herd of suckler cattle which are calved in two batches – spring and summer. We also have 400 commercial sheep, 40 pedigree Texels and 35 breeding Poll Dorsets. The Dorsets are lambed in two batches – September and January, the Texels are lambed in February and the commercial ewes are lambed in the last week of March and beginning of April.
Why have you chosen Dorsets?
I liked the look of the Dorset breed after seeing them in a nearby field and was gifted my first ewe as a 30th birthday present 6 years ago, by my now husband. They are docile and friendly and fantastic mothers. Their out of season breeding ability is a particularly useful feature as you can have them lamb when it suits you rather than be dictated by the normal seasonal breeding pattern of other sheep breeds.
What benefits has the breed brought?
Having Dorsets has allowed me the opportunity to own and grow a pedigree flock of my own with a relatively modest investment. Lambing in Autumn has the advantage of the lambs being ready for the Easter market and achieving higher prices. We have also kept a couple of tups and turned them into teasers to help syncronise the lambing of the commercial flock. However, the best thing about having the Dorsets is the people we have met through the breed, who have been so kind and helpful and I have learnt so much over the years from them.
What have the challenges been?
Because we run a commercial flock which lamb in Spring, we find it a challenge to remember the different management routines for the different flocks. Our marriage is also at serious threat every April when I ask for help sorting ewes and putting out tups in the middle of lambing. Its also been hard to find people locally to clip and scan the ewes out of season. I’ve also found some market buyers are slightly prejudiced against the woolly heads of the Dorset lambs.
How have you overcome them?
We have notes in the calendar to remind us when things need done for the Dorsets so we don’t forget. I’ve also found that if I put out the tups on the 9th of April which is my birthday, this is perfect for having them start to lamb from 1st of September and doing it that day usually allows me some extra leeway with my husband. As for the woolly heads – we have been known to give the lambs a wee haircut before they go off to the market to see if it makes a difference.
One piece of advice?
The one piece of advice I would give is don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. My fellow Scottish Dorset breeders have been invaluable over the years with help starting my flock from lending tups when I only had one or two ewes, to giving up their time to demonstrate how do prepare sheep for a show, to visiting the flock to give opinions on where to improve. I feel very lucky to have Dorset friends in my phone that I call whenever I have a question.