Starting a new Oxford Down Flock

This guide is intended to assist prospective new breeders through the process of selecting and purchasing Oxford Down sheep and registering a new flock with the Association.

 

WHERE TO BUY YOUR STOCK

  • Oxford Down ewes and rams can be bought at official breed sales at Worcester (August), Melton Mowbray (September) and Carlisle (September).  Catalogues for these sales are available on the Oxford Down website shortly before each sale. 

  • Alternatively, registered breeding stock can be bought privately ex-farm, direct from the breeders.  The Secretary can provide a list of breeders with contact details on request.

 

SELECTING STOCK

Buyers should obtain the best foundation females possible to establish a good quality flock.  It is essential that this good start is maintained and improved on by selecting and purchasing top quality stock rams.  Always remember that “the ram is half the flock” i.e. the ram will contribute 50% of each lamb crop’s genetics, so it is always a wise investment to obtain a really good ram.

 

When looking for foundation stock please take note of the following advice:

  1. Never buy stock unseen.  Sheep should be physically inspected and assessed carefully for quality, soundness, health and condition.

  2. A sheep being registered or the produce of a registered flock does not automatically mean it is a good sheep.  Every sheep must be considered on its own merits, not solely on its paperwork.

  3. Buyer beware.  Before purchase, always ensure that the sheep are of sound constitution and health, are physically correct, are well grown, have good breed type and are either registered or eligible for registration.

 

To help in the selection of suitable breeding stock, please refer to the Know Your Stock booklet which is available to

download here.  This document clearly shows desirable and undesirable traits.

 

BREED STANDARD

A good Oxford Down must be a large-sized sheep, with mature rams and ewes typically weighing over 150kg and 100kg respectively.  Oxford Down sheep are active and alert with a free action.

 

The official breed description defines the Oxford Down breed type and sets out some points to look for in a good Oxford Down:

 

HEAD: Naturally clean, dark/very dark chocolate brown in colour, not truly black, with a covering of wool on the poll.  Rams should possess a bold masculine head.

EARS: Dark/very dark chocolate brown in colour, not truly black. Of good length, point straight out, back of the ear is often woolly.

NECK: Muscular/strong and not too long.

BODY: Well fleshed, long, deep and symmetrical. A broad, level and long back with well-sprung ribs.

RUMP:  Quarters long and wide, dock well set on, gigot full and deep.

LEGS:  Medium length, of strong bone and upright joints, well set apart and dark/very dark chocolate brown in colour, not truly black.

SKIN: Cherry pink skin

WOOL: Covered with wool of close texture, good length, fine quality

 

Some physical points to check during inspection are:

 

CHECK

  1. Teeth should match stated age of animal and should be correct i.e. not overshot or undershot

  2. Pasterns should be short and well up

  3. Feet should be free from scald and foot rot and should be recently trimmed

  4. Rams – two testicles of the same size

  5. Rams – No swelling or lumps on sheath or penis

  6. Ewes – two teats, udders of ewes that have lambed should be free from milk and lumps, and both quarters should be the same size

  7. Ewes and ewe lambs – check under tail to ensure everything is correct

  8. All sheep must move freely (loosely) and have a straight action

 

Particular attention should be paid to avoiding the following faults:

 

REJECT

  1. Bad mouth (overshot or undershot)

  2. Grey/blue skin colour             

  3. Black fibres in wool, kemp in fleece, loose fleece             

  4. Long/drooping ears             

  5. Pasterns which fall in/out or are down             

  6. White mottling on face or under jaw (a few white flecks on front of nose are acceptable)

  7. Face, legs, ears that are brown or lighter in colour (see breed description)             

  8. Horns (scurs are also undesirable)            

 

REGISTRATION STATUS

Always buy stock from a registered breeder.  If necessary, check with the Secretary that the vendor is a current member of the Oxford Down Sheep Breeders’ Association and has a registered flock.  The buyer should also determine from the vendor the registration status of the sheep.  This must be done before purchase.

 

Females are usually registered as ewe lambs by the breeder in November of the year of birth. 

Rams can be registered by the breeder or the new owner at any time in their life. 

 

  • For sheep that are already registered, the breeder will give the buyer the pedigree certificate.

  • For ewe lambs, pedigree certificates will be sent to the buyer in early spring after registration by the breeder in November.

  • For rams sold as ‘eligible for registration’ the breeder will give the buyer a completed Ram Registration form which can be submitted to the Association with the fee by the buyer.

 

If you are in any doubt about the registration status or eligibility of prospective purchases, contact the Flock Book Editor before purchase.   Email registrations@oxforddownsheep.org.uk for advice.

 

EAR MARKING

Check that the sheep are individually ear marked.  Legally they must have two tags (one of which is an EID tag) each carrying the same UK flock mark and individual lamb number.  Check also that the ear tag numbers match those on the pedigree certificates or Ram Registration form.

 

TRANSFERS

The buyer must pay a transfer fee to the Association on each ram or female which has already been registered by the breeder (or where registration by the breeder is pending) to transfer ownership from the previous owner to the new owner.

 

HEALTH STATUS

Some breeders are members of the national Maedi-Visna accreditation scheme.  MV is an infectious disease that can be passed between sheep.  It is difficult to eradicate once in a flock.  MV accredited flocks are regularly blood tested for MV and are kept separate from non-accredited stock to avoid possible infection.  If buying from MV flocks the buyer will be given a current MV certificate.

 

Becoming an MV accredited flock requires two blood tests taken six months apart and isolation of the flock for 12 months (so the sheep do not come into contact with non-accredited sheep), before it can be declared free of MV. 

 

If you want to keep MV accredited status when purchasing MV sheep, you will need to contact your local DEFRA representative who will visit your holding to inspect your boundaries and your premises.  It is advisable to do this prior to you bringing sheep onto your property.

 

For further information please see:

https://www.sruc.ac.uk/business-services/what-is-your-goal/veterinary-laboratory-services/sheep-and-goat-health-schemes/premium-sheep-and-goat-health-schemes/

 

PERFORMANCE RECORDING

Some flocks participate in the national performance recording scheme run by Signet.  This aims to improve the commercial performance of flocks by measuring traits such as growth rate, depth of lean meat and depth of fat.  This allows breeders to select stock taking into account their performance and carcase characteristics.   

For further information please see:  https://www.signetdata.com/technical/sheep-recording/

 

REGISTERING YOUR FLOCK

To join the Association and register your flock, please complete a New Flock Registration Form which is available to download here.

 

Benefits of Registration

        

Pedigree status

  • Membership allows stock to be registered, providing a record of pedigree

  • Registration confirms provenance to buyers

  • Registration and maintenance of pedigrees aids selection of stock

  • Registration increases the genetic and conservation value of stock

 

Increased market for stock

  • Sell to other pedigree breeders

  • Sell at official sales

  • Flock promoted to other breeders in Flock Book

  • Flock promoted to potential buyers when enquiries for stock received

  • Advertise stock on Association website and in Flock Book

  • Export market opportunities

 

Events

  • Attend Association events such as farm visits, workshops, and meetings

  • Meet other like-minded breeders

  • Improve your management, stock presentation and stockjudging skills by learning from and competing with other breeders

 

Communications & information

  • Receive four-generation extended pedigree certificates

  • Receive newsletters

  • Receive Flock Book

  • Receive e-mail updates and sale catalogues

 

Showing

  • Allows stock to be shown in breed classes at major shows

 

We hope you find this guide useful and look forward to welcoming you as a new Member of the Association.