Le Bosquet Farm Diary [Restricted access]
LEVAGE DORSET is a small specialist farm in Normandy dedicated to breeding and improving excellent Dorset Down sheep.
Until recently pure Dorset Horn sheep were bred in parallel for cross-breeding purposes. However, we were unable to interest French breeders in Dorset Horns and so, with much regret, had to decide to drop this breed which is in any case almost certainly heading for extinction in the UK.
Although these two breeds share common ancestors (notably the Southdown breed) they have remarkable and quite separate naturally occurring characteristics which have long been successfully exploited by breeders in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and North America. 'Downs' and 'Horns' have contributed to making these countries pre-eminent producers of lamb and wool.
Dorset Downs were introduced to France in 1967 and are officially recognised by UPRA (042). We introduced Dorset Horns to France in 2004 and make both available to breeders in Europe.
Picture above right: Dorset Horn ewe FR 14513091 0013 'Thirteen' bred by Fooks Bros of Poorton, Dorset, England. Right: Dorset Horn ram FR14513091 0020 'Matthew' born at Le Bosquet, Pont-Farcy, France in 2004 and in service thereafter.
Dorset Horns and Dorset Downs are products of the golden age of early C19th sheep improvement in England's 'West Country'. As a result:
In June 2006 Elevage Dorset imported an excellent new Dorset Down ram from England, believed to be the first new blood introduced into the French national flock since 1967.
This ram (UK 345198 Holloway 22-05), bred by Richard Holloway of Somerset, combines excellent conformation with classic breed characteristics and complies fully with European and French health requirements (PrP Genotyped ARR/ARR).
Pictured right: Richard Holloway's ram 'Rambo' (UK 345198 Holloway 22-05), imported from Somerset to Normandy in 2006 to enrich the French flock.
Our pedigree ewes and rams are used to establish or enrich other pedigree flocks.
Dorset Down rams are used as 'terminal sires' in flocks dedicated to producing high quality meat from cross-bred lambs.
Dorset Horn rams are terminal sires in flocks using natural 'frequent lambing' to achieve year-round production of top quality fattened lambs.
All our sheep comply with European breeding and health standards (e.g. genotyped for Scrapie resistance, registered Brucellosis free, MV/CAE accredited, etc). Each is ear-tagged (electronically since 2010) and supplied with a detailed pedigree and health certification.
Picture above right: Dorset Down ram FR14513091 0029 'Pascal', bred by Chenu of Le Grand Chausseroy, Cher, France. Bought by Elevage Dorset in 2004. Sire at Le Bosquet in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
In May 2006 Elevage Doset agreed to lend two young Dorset Horn rams to the 'Conservatoire Fédératif des Espaces Naturels de Basse-Normandie'.
The CFEN specialises in the conservation of numerous large areas of natural landscape so that their flora and fauna can be monitored and studied. The introduction of rustic grazing species such as Highland cattle, rare breeds of goats and now Dorset Horn sheep is intended to play an important role in encouraging certain species of wild plants and flowers notably wild orchids. Two of our Dorset Horn rams were released on chalk downs at Coteau du Mont Chauvel, St Germain-de-Clairefeuille, Orne.
This well-intentioned experiment did not end happily. The CFEN had believed that highly domesticated breeds of sheep, unaccustomed to roaming 'wild' over large areas, would integrate with other flocks already used to an exclusively 'hill' or 'mountain' existence. This proved not to be the case. The Horn rams did not integrate, and were actively 'excluded' by the existing flock(s). One of the rams soon died (its carcass ravaged by scavengers) while the other was found soon after in a distressed state, though it was nursed back to health just in time.
The ewes in this picture are those originally bought by Elevage Dorset from Fooks Bros of Poorton, Dorset, England in 2004.
Although we no longer breed Dorset Horn sheep and have none to sell, four of these remarkable sheep are still resident at Le Bosquet. The following information is for interest only.
The DORSET HORN is a medium/large English sheep uniquely capable of producing lambs at any time of the year. This means that it can breed twice a year though a more sustainable rate of lambing is three times every two years.
The Dorset Horn originated from crossing Spanish sheep with native English stock during the C16th. By the C18th and C19th these sheep were known as the Portland breed. However, they were 'improved' by being crossed with Southdown sheep in order to produce today's Dorset Horn.
It is one of the earliest recorded breeds of British sheep its first Flock Book being established in 1892 and Queen Victoria being the first patroness of the breed's association.
The same association still represents Dorset Horn and Poll Dorset breeders and maintains a Sire Reference Scheme.
Both rams and ewes of this breed have horns those of the male being much more impressive. However, owing to a freak mutation in the Australian flock, a 'polled' version emerged and was exploited in the 1950s by the Dorset breeder 'Bunny' Lenthall. This identical but hornless 'Polled Dorset' is frequently found in larger-scale flocks.
At Le Bosquet, we prefer to breed only from the original horned variety.
The prize-winning Dorset Down ram, above, bred by Pascal Chenu of Le Grand Chausseroy, Cher, France, was the foundation of the breeding lines at Elevage Dorset during 2004-2006. A new Dorset Down ram was imported from Richard Holloway in England by Elevage Dorset in summer 2006 and was thought to be the first introduction of new blood to the French flock since 1967. In 2014 Christopher & Sarah Long began a second foray in England to find new blood to maintain genetic diversity in their own flock and among a small number of other Dorset Down breeders in France.
The DORSET DOWN is a solid, medium-sized English sheep which produces abundant, excellent quality meat and one of the finest grades of wool.
It has its orign in the work of Mr Homer Saunders of Watercombe, near Dorchester, who in 1820 began selectively to improve Down Sheep at Bovington, Dorset thus producing the 'Watercombe' breed.
Simultaneously a Mr Humfrey of Chaddleworth, near Newbury, selected some of the best Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire ewes and crossed them with pure Southdown rams from the celebrated flock of Mr Jonas Webb.
After many years of careful breeding Humfrey produced a class of sheep similar to that of Homer Saunders and known as the 'West Country Down'.
The sheep bred by Saunders and Humfrey were introduced into the Down flocks of Dorset to produce the 'Dorset Down' breed of today.
The breed association was formed in 1906 and in 2004 represented about 50 flocks comprising of about 2,500 pedigree registered sheep in the United Kingdom.
Our Dorset Downs are descendants of the first to be introduced from England into France by Pierre Chenu and Albert Charron in 1967.
Along with others, these two French breeders saw the Dorset Down as more developed than the Southdown which had become common in France. They therefore persuaded the French Ministry of Agriculture to recognise the Dorset Down officially in 1974.
Dorset Downs were soon winners of several awards at the Paris Salon d'Agriculture and their descendants now form the basis of our Elevage Dorset flock at Le Bosquet though we will be regularly improving our stock from prime English blood-lines.
Above: Dorset Horn '14513091 DH 0034' Angèle, painted by Jo Miller at Le Bosquet in August 2006.
Elevage Dorset, Le Bosquet, 14380 Pont Farcy, Normandy, France. Tel: +33 2 31 09 24 66.
FLOCK No. (Cheptel) : FR 14 -513-091. SIRET : 448-316-208-00017. PACAGE : 014026266.
© (2004) Christopher A. Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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