Bowmont Merino Sheep
Our Bowmont Merinos are based on the old Bowmont sheep developed by The Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Scotland over 25 years ago.They crossed Saxon Merino (the finest wooled of all the Merino types) with white Shetland ewes and then crossed back to yet another Saxon Merino. The first generation of "Bowmonts" were 75% Saxon Merino and 25% white Shetland. For those in the know, the Saxon genetics were from the world-reknowned Sierra Park stud with some input from Merryville via Ringmaster. Mouterre Silky was another famous sire.
After that first generation, much tweaking and refining took place with the addition of more pure Saxon Merino genetics along the way to balance and correct the fleece. The Shetland characteristics were entirely bred out as it was realised the hardiness required was present already in the Merinos and were a real nuisance in developing and refining the wool.
The aim was to produce a hill sheep with outstandingly good fine wool that would provide an extra income for struggling Scottish sheep farmers. 20 years of hard work by scientists covering fibre biology, animal physiology and genetics produced a stunningly good, consistent wool of 15-20 microns on the back of a moderately hardy sheep.
However, no research into marketing was done and Scottish hill farmers were never able to make sufficient premium from the wool to justify the extra work involved. The meat carcass was not sufficent compensation and those that did take the sheep on kept crossing them to improve lamb conformation immediately losing wool quality - much to the frustration of the scientists!
The Macaulay project closed their research farm in 2006 just as the farm researchers had finally stabilised the animals into a consistent, reliable breed. In the absence of interest from Scottish farmers who had found the sheep did not thrive on the hills and were not giving them a good enough return on wool alone, most of the flock was culled.
We were asked to take on some of the best because we were already well known to Macaulay staff for our strong interest in, and support of the Cashmere goat project - run from the same farm. This we did gladly because we could not bear to think of all the years of work going to waste.
Now, 8 years on, we have the only provably pure, fully traceable Bowmont flock in the country with complete breeding records back to the original animals bred 25 years ago plus full fibre quality test results. We have never had any other breed of sheep and because we have very high, export health status, we are securly fenced all round to prevent any contact with other farm animals..We now use the name BOWMONT MERINO to ensure that our sheep are distinguishable from any first cross animals and also because we continue the work of the Macaulay Institute by adding in more pure Saxon genetics as necessary.This is done by using Artificial Insemmination and imported semen. We run an entirely closed flock here to prevent any diesease entering the farm.
We still work with some of the original Macaulay scientists who developed the breed and use the same laboratory for fibre quality testing that was used during the project. We have further refined the wool down to the 14-19µ range. Our aim is now to breed animals between 15-17 microns only. This is the area with most commercial potential for us.
All our sheep are tested for quality before joining the breeding flock and at regular intervals after that. BUT, fibre diameter is only one of a host of criteria we check when making decisions. we have a very precious genetic pool here and cannot afford to waste or underuse any of it. It is a complex task. We now work very closely with Australian technical experts to help us keep on track.
The sheep are hardy here on the edge of Exmoor where temperatures have got down to -12C. They cope well with rain and their feet are very sound. We have no foot rot on this farm! They make good mothers, unlike pure 100% Saxon Merinos that are notorious for getting up and leaving their new born lambs. We find them quiet and easy to handle as they are a mid-sized sheep with ewes getting to a maximum of 60kg.
We concentrate on producing "weather-proof" sheep. If a Merino can cope with Exmoor weather it can cope with anything.
We recently started freezing genetic material (semen and embryos) from the sheep in order to keep them safe from disasters like Foot And Mouth. This is an incredibly expensive insurance policy but is essential to safeguard these wonderful animals. Going back to first base and starting again is not an option. The huge numbers required plus the many many years of work are not practical for the individual farmer.Far better to work with the stable genetic base we have here already.
The wool of course, is to die for. We have never been in the British Wool Marketing Board system as we are exempt and we realised right from the first shearing that our wool would fly off the farm as soon as it was off the sheep - and so it has proved! We are regularly approached by commercial companies wanting to buy the crop.
Five years ago we decided to link up with Finisterre, a Cornish surfwear company that shares our commitment to the long term future of the sheep. They are buying nearly all our wool now for turning into superb luxury goods. They have until recently used only Australian Merino. Following extensive testing by Leeds University textile lab, they decided to use Bowmont Merino with a view eventually, when our flock grows, to substituting it for all their foreign Merino.
We are obsessed with quality control in our sheep. Breeding for wool is specialised, just like breeding for meat. WE DO NOT SELL BREEDING STOCK at the moment We have such a precious genetic resource here that we cannot afford to lose any of it. Developing and refining this wool is a complex technical job and we need all the sheep we can produce to do it well and efficiently. However we do work with two professional farmers with suitable experience and who share our MV Accredited Health status and our high welfare policies. They currently run wether flocks for us, selling the wool back to us after shearing.
Producing Superfine wool from our Bowmont Merino sheep is our passion and obsession. We love our sheep and we hope they have happy, contented lives here with us.