One of only a handful of breeders in South Africa of Hampshire Down sheep, 18-year-old Sameshni Reddy and her family were originally drawn to the breed for their aesthetic appeal, having acquired their 5 hectare Randfontein plot as recently as 2013.
After some experimentation with sheep, Sameshni noted the teddy-bear like qualities of the Hampshire Downs.
They are short and stocky in stature with thick wool. Their defining characteristic is their “panda” faces, with black rings around their eyes.
Upon further investigation, Sameshni discovered the breed is highly sought after by world-class chefs for their high quality meat. Television celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is said to favour the Hampshire lambs for his restaurants.
The wool is also extremely high quality and can reach up to 33 microns. It is used extensively in textile manufacturing, most notably in the manufacture of woollen hosery.
The Reddy family currently have 18 stud quality Hampshire Down ewes and a registered ram. Having started her stud when she was only 17, Sameshni has been registered with the breed society as Jessam Stud and is trading as Jessam Hampshire Stud under the stud code JS – taken from the first letters of her and her younger brother Jeshlen’s names.
A stud quality Hampshire Down must fit the characteristics assigned by the Stud Book. These include the shape of the face, the markings on the face and legs and the length of the legs.
In South Africa, the Hampshire Down is of the short legged variety. Their counterparts in the USA have longer legs. The Stud Book and breeders also prefer their animals to have docked tails, both for hygiene and aesthetic reasons.
Over the last year, Sameshni has learned a great deal about the breed. They are excellent mothers, often giving birth to twins. They are very protective mothers.
Lambs are born around 3 to 5kgs. They are born black and will reach their final white colour at around three months old. She finds that the lambs mature at a quick pace.
She weans her lambs at 120 days, although she knows of other breeders who do so earlier. At weaning, the lambs are around 35kgs.
The Hampshire Down reaches sexual maturity very young. Sameshni starts them breeding at 18 months but she is aware of breeders who do it as early as eleven months.
Sameshni has had no problem breeding her stud ram with her ewes. The Hampshire Down breeds easily naturally and has a high yield each season, although progesterone sponging and artificial insemination are also highly successful in the breed.
Sameshni gives her stud ram between March and April to run with her ewes. Spring births are best for stud quality sheep. This allows the mother an adequate environment to return to a good condition while nursing.
Sameshni believes the Hampshire Down is ideal for the conditions of Gauteng plots. They are hardy and generally resistant to illness. They cope well in rainy conditions, probably owing to their English-countryside origins.
They also fare well over the dry winter months, with only a little supplemental feeding required.
Sameshni uses Lucerne and Japanese radish for added fodder to optimise nutrition.
The Reddy family grow both of these crops on their property to lessen the cost of food.
Sheep in general are easily contained and require small to medium sized pastures for grazing.
The Hampshire Down in particular is very easily adapted to smaller properties provided the nutrition of the animals is catered for.
The Hampshire Down is a very docile breed with a lovely temperament. They are not aggressive. Their size makes them ideal for families concerned for the safety of small children.
The Hampshire Down Breeders Association of SA ~ currently chaired by Janine Leimer ~ has been hugely helpful to this new member.
Sameshni makes particular reference to Dr Daleen Roos of Vrede who has been on hand at any time with advice.
Having bought a number of animals from Dr Roos at the start of this venture, Sameshni stayed in contact and has been overwhelmed by the support and assistance Dr Roos has provided and has been a real mentor to Sameshni.
“There are only a few breeders in South Africa ~ less than 15. It is a very close-knit community and everyone has been helpful and welcoming. People are always willing to answer questions or offer assistance,” Sameshni says.
Due to the small number of these animals in South Africa, there is also continual communication within the Breeders Association to prevent in-breeding beyond what is considered safe for the animals.
Sameshni has looked into importing semen from Australia and New Zealand in an attempt to add new genes into the existing South African bloodlines. The Dept of Agriculture has very strict controls over the importing of semen to avoid the import of diseases such as scrapie, which is most prevalent in Europe.
Because of their stud quality, Sameshni has also received assistance from qualified animal nutritionists who have made suggestions for keeping her sheep in the best condition.
At the recent Walkerville Show, Janine Leimer commented on the excellent condition of the Reddy’s sheep. “That was a huge compliment, coming from a leader in this field,” said Sameshni.
To keep them in their best health and condition, Sameshni’s flock undergo an intense deworming, vaccination and anti-tick programme.
The family built their own dip tank through which they funnel the flock on the way out to the pasture, as often as once a week in summer, to prevent tick-borne diseases.
They change the dip used often to avoid building resistance in the ticks.
Sameshni uses a template provided by Dr Roos to keep track of everything about her flock ~ vaccinations, deworming, breeding, lambing, shearing etc.
A lamb born or new animal purchased is tagged and registered. Note is made of the sire and mother. This helps maintain clear records of the growth and development of her flock and the breed as a whole.
Like so many smallholders, the Reddys use what is available to them to improve their facilities.
They have paid careful attention to making their facilities as easy to use as possible.
Most of their equipment can be used by one person alone, so Sameshni can tend to the flock on her own if need be.
Their dip tank is easily set up by one person.
Their loading ramp is lightweight and can be lifted by one or two people. This ramp also doubles up as an isolator, allowing them to corner a sheep that needs special attention.
Slow feeders made out of old wooden pallets preserve feed for smaller lambs.
Sameshni’s father Sivan used gate frames and wire to create portable pens for the flock. Sivan says “We use what we can find on the plot. We try not to buy new materials where possible.”
And of course, in keeping with the smallholder way of life, the Reddys have learned from trial and error.
Where possible, the family tries to resolve issues on their own. For example, they have discovered that a sheep suffering from bloat can be easily cured with a spoonful of cooking oil. Likewise, a sheep that swells after deworming, indicating the presence of parasites, can be effectively treated with apple cider vinegar.
But it has not all been smooth sailing. Sameshni recently lost a stud ewe to stock theft on a quiet Saturday afternoon.
They have also had challenges in dealing with the local Randfontein Municipality and Dept of Agriculture. As previously disadvantaged members of the community, the Reddys have applied for assistance in ploughing fields, setting up vegetable tunnels and drilling boreholes in keeping with the Dept of Agriculture’s promise to help emerging farmers. All requests have been met with little to no response, despite months of back and forth. As such, any development on the property has been due to the family’s determination and hard work.
The future looks promising for Sameshni and her sheep. The family hopes to begin breeding for meat ~ those animals not registered as stud quality will be slaughtered.
They have also received a number of enquiries from people in the Islamic community interested in the breed for religious ceremonies and believe there could be a niche market there.
Like so many smallholders, the property sustains a number of growing projects. Sameshni’s mother has an interest in weaving and spinning. She hopes to build a small arts and craft centre on the property, using Hampshire Down wool to teach local women about spinning and weaving.
Sameshni’s younger brother farms small crops of vegetables on the property and has had some success selling produce at the Johannesburg Fruit & Vegetable Market.
The family also makes and sells jam from the small orchard on the property.
In many ways, therefore, the Reddy’s property is the quintessential plot ~ with projects constantly growing and changing and new ventures starting.
For smallholders across the province, young Sameshni is an inspiration. With passion and hard work, she has been able to grow a beautiful looking and high standard flock of Hampshire Downs. With the continued support of her family and the members of the Hampshire Down Breeders Association this young farmer is the future of smallholders in Gauteng.