Dorsets Adorn the Glens



The Dorset sheep, although traditionally a lowland breed from the downs of southwest England , adapts very well to life on the hill ground.

Anthony McKeegan who farms near Glenarm in Co. Antrim, is delighted with how Dorset sheep fit into his farming enterprise. Anthony farms around 200 acres, the majority of this is a hill farm which is taken in conacre. Along with forty pedigree Dorset ewes he runs 150 mule ewes, but he is so impressed with the returns from the Dorsets that he intends to increase them and cut down on the crossbreds.

Last year Anthony lambed his Dorset flock in November, the lambs were weaned around 10 weeks old and creep fed. They were sold through the market at Easter time weighing approx 22kilos making £110. He also sent a batch of lambs to Crossgar Meats, through the Dorset lamb marketing scheme, which is available for members of the N.I. Dorset Club. Crossgar Meats pay a premium per kilo above the L.M.C weekly quote, with no grading and no deductions making it advantageous to the producer.

Anthony has purchased a new ram for this season, choosing a strong lamb from W&K Carson's Downkillybegs flock which has New Zealand bloodlines. He wishes to introduce new bloodlines in the female side as well and is seeking to expand his flock, but selects only ewe lambs which have good height and lenght. This year the lambing period will run from mid September to early October and as there is still good pasture at this time the ewes will not be fed prior to lambing. The weather at this time of year should also be favourable for lambing and the ewes and lambs can remain out therefore cutting down feeding costs.

When asked to explain his enthusiasm for increasing the Dorset flock, Anthony points out that he has been getting better financial returns from the Dorsets as he can lamb them at a time when he can make more use of available grass and have lambs ready for sale early when the prices are highest. He also finds they lamb easily, are very maternal and have plenty of quality milk. An added bonus is the docile nature of the sheep, if Anthony is away from the farm his wife Martina is happy to help out with them.

Within the past three years, Anthony has introduced a herd of Irish Moiled Cattle to the farm, which further shows his commitments to native breeds. His twelve cows and eight heifers are all pedigree and he is hoping to increase from there. These cattle are purely grass fed and allowed to mature slowly, finishing at around 30 months.

The McKeegan name is not only known for producing sheep and cattle, Anthony is a skilled working dog trainer and has recently exported a fully trained sheep dog to Canada . He breeds his own dogs and trains them up from six months old, taking them through the nursery trial stage and keeping them until their training is complete at two an half to three years old. At the moment he is working with three young dogs and is hopeful that they will all make the grade. He finds the Dorset sheep are good for the young dogs as they settle quickly and are not too flighty! During the summer months Anthony travels round the glens shearing sheep, helping to boost his farm income and providing an essential service to the sheep farming community of North Antrim .

Anthony is looking forward to the forthcoming N.I.Dorset Club sale in July when there will be an excellant opportunity to purchase quality breeding stock.

The 39th Annual Premier Show & Sale will be held in McClellands Livestock Market, Woodside Road , Ballymena, on Monday 25th july 2011. The Show classes are generously sponsored by Norbrook Pharmaceuticals and begins at 9.30am, the sale commences at 1.30pm.

Catalogues or further information can be obtained from N.I. Dorset Club secretary William Carson on

07841 746705 or McClellands Market office 028 256 33470.