Keeping Native Breeds Case studies & Projects Loving Longwools From borrowing some exotic sheep to clear their smallholding to running a self-sufficient fleece flock has taken Sascha and Alex Docwra just four years. Now they not only keep and breed their own sheep, they supply breeding stock which is helping to establish new flocks of registered pedigree Leicester Longwools. Probably the first question anyone asks Sascha is how the flock got its name – Wit’s End. She replies: “I had a house in St Albans which, from bringing up my children, I named Wit’s End. Then I set up a market research company which I ran for 10 years, and named that Wit’s End too. So, when we moved here to Wales, the name just sort of followed.” Prior to May 2017, when they made their move to their smallholding in Llandysul in Carmarthenshire, neither Sascha nor Alex had any livestock experience – just a large garden with chickens and vegetables. Explaining the move to Wales, Sascha says: “Price was the driving factor. We were fast approaching our 50s and had probably watched too many ‘Escape to the Country’ type programmes so we wanted to find a house with a plot of land where we could live the ‘Good Life’. We were renting in St Albans, where it was too expensive to buy, but we had friends and family in Wales and it just ticked all the boxes.” Although they were looking for a property with land, sheep were never part of the plan, as Sascha explains: “I had a Welsh cob but he didn’t make it to the move so we needed something to put on the land. A neighbour offered us some Cameroon sheep, which did an amazing clearance job and through them we discovered that we like sheep.” The first British natives to arrive were a flock of Jacobs, whose beautiful fleece inspired Sascha to think about ways of using it in crafting. Then, through a Facebook smallholder group, she met James and Tina Waite, who were showcasing their Ash Tree flock of Leicester Longwools. After chatting online, Sascha and Alex drove to Lincolnshire to buy three in-lamb ewes, which formed the basis of what is now their main flock. Sascha explains how she and Alex got from there to where they are now: “When we moved to Wales, the smallholding was our complete and utter focus - we had decided that this was what we wanted to do. I was mesmerised by the wool and while rare breeds are not always the most profitable, the wool has made us self-sufficient. “It has been a complete learning curve. Apart from not having any previous experience of sheep, I wasn’t a crafter either having only ever done basic knitting. However, the wool took me back to childhood holidays in the Yorkshire Dales when I used to collect bits of wool from the field to play with. We invested in spinning wheels and carding machines and learned how to use them from YouTube and crafting circles. We live near the National Wool Museum – in fact a track in one of our fields runs to the museum – so we feel connected to the land and the area by the opportunity to process and sell wool.” The Wit’s End flock is kept both for fibre and for producing breeding stock. The first three ewes produced three lambs and the Docwras bought a further five ewes. They breed only from shearlings and breed to the Leicester Longwool Society standards. They have been back to the Waites in Lincolnshire to expand their bloodlines and have swapped rams with them. The couple started showing their Leicesters just before Covid and were in the red ribbons all the way. Sascha says: “One of our prize-winning ewes, Bimbo, really knew how to work the crowd and she attracted a lot of attention. Some of the Welsh farmers were quite taken aback to see a full-size Leicester Longwool ewe.” Although not the breed’s native territory, Sascha believes that there are quite a few Leicester Longwools in Wales that are not registered: “We are finding owners here that maybe bought through coloured sheep sales without really realising what they had got and so the sheep are not registered.” Registration is of paramount importance to Sascha and Alex and they are doing their best to encourage other keepers to register their sheep. Breeding stock is an important part of the business, and they reckon that at least five new flocks have been started from stock they have supplied – not bad for a small farm in a short period. Breed promotion also comes into it and Sascha has done a talk with BBC Wales about longwools and is committed to promoting the breed and encouraging the establishment of new registered flocks to help contribute to the conservation of the breed. Describing the attributes of the Leicester Longwool, Sascha says: “They are an ideal smallholder’s sheep with a fantastic, friendly temperament and their fleece is stunning. In wet Wales, they do need a little TLC but we are chuffed that we have some of the big boys in town.” The other side of the business is the fibre sales. They sell raw and washed fleece, locks for crafters and a range of products including rugs, cushions and bags. Wit’s End also offers an adoption scheme for its fibre flock, sheep they will keep for their entire lives. For £50, customers can choose a sheep to ‘adopt’ receiving a £20 gift voucher to use in the Wit’s End shop, together with an adoption certificate, picture and background information. Sascha says: “People have really bought into the farm via the adoption scheme. Quite a few locals have adopted as well as people from all over the UK and as far as France and Lithuania. They can follow their sheep’s journey through social media and see what’s going on through the seasons. Bimbo in particular is so funny that she virtually has her own social media following. We are also happy for people to visit their sheep – providing they come well-armed with packets of Hobnobs!” Plans for the future? To continue to maintain their fibre flock, encourage new breeders with their registered breeding stock and help the conservation effort, and, having had a registry office marriage during Covid, Sascha and Alex plan a farm wedding next June with the Longwools taking centre stage as ring bearers.