We stepped out of the kitchen to visit local shepherd Grace, who lives close by.
There’s no denying that Grace is totally committed to her growing flock of Dorset Poll sheep but chatting to her recently, it was evident that her long term aims of establishing a profitable business were far from woolly. From an initial pair of bottle fed lambs that arrived during April 2020 as a lockdown ‘project’, the flock is growing rapidly and now stands at 18, which includes a set of triplets born this spring.
Inspired by Amanda Owen, The Yorkshire Shepherdess, Grace explained that she selected this long-established Dorset breed because they thrive on the lush water meadows beside the river which flows through the farm. Tradition definitely runs deep here, the farm has been home to generations of Grace’s family for over four hundred years.
Dorset Poll ewes are usually attentive mothers who often give birth to their lambs without assistance from the shepherd. The term ‘poll’ means that the sheep naturally do not have horns and for a young farmer who fits full time study around the care of her flock, Grace says that she finds this breed relatively easy to look after. In addition to the daily care of her beloved sheep, Grace also finds the time to regularly exercise a neighbour’s dog. This pocket money helps finance supplementary feed for the ewes.
During my visit it was time to bottle feed some of the orphan lambs. These had been gifted to Grace from another local shepherd who is impressed by her commitment and eagerness to nurture the new born lambs, whilst also recognising that this is an opportunity to learn more about the growth and development of her sheep, ensuring in time the best overall health for her long term flock.
Looking ahead, Grace would love to show her traditional Dorset breed at the county show, but at the moment she is content with learning all she can about their care and development. To become a viable flock, Grace is realistic that as well as using their wool, some of the lambs will ultimately be reared for meat. Ideally she hopes to send them to the local butcher a short four miles from the farm, minimalizing the stress of travel and keeping food miles low.
I asked Grace if she would be happy to share a recipe and this is a family favourite that originated from her Grandmother’s OXO cookery book.
To feed a family of four.
Chop the remaining cold lamb leftover from your Sunday roast, removing any fat. Remove the crusts from half a loaf of bread and finely grate the crumb. Grate 50 g hard cheese and place 25 g butter in a small pudding bowl at the back of the AGA (or in a microwave for 15 seconds) to melt.
Fill the kettle with water and put on to boil. Pre-heat a conventional oven to 180 C or slide the grid shelf on to the fourth runner of your AGA roasting oven.
Chop a large onion, two sticks of celery, two large carrots and soften in a large heavy based saucepan or casserole with a little rapeseed oil and a bay leaf. Add a crumbled OXO stock cube and a tablespoon of tomato puree with 600 ml hot water to the pan (or homemade stock if you prefer).
Peel four large waxy potatoes and chop into large dice and add these to the casserole, bring the stock to the boil.
Add the diced lamb and return to the boil, season with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce or mushroom ketchup. Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs, followed by the melted butter and grated cheese and transfer to the preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown and piping hot in the centre.
Serve with spring greens.
Grace’s enthusiasm for her flock was so inspiring and I loved taking time away from the kitchen to discover her plans for the future as well as meet her Dorset Poll sheep.