In a paddock not far from Chudleigh sheep representing 172 years of stud breeding are wandering around.
The Ritchie family’s Malton English Leicester stud is flock number five in the Australian stud book.
It was established on their property Mayfield in 1851, making it one of the oldest existing English Leicester studs in the world.
Today the stud is run by Neon Ritchie, who grew up on the Mayfield property just a short distance from the property’s original homestead.
English Leicesters were one of the most popular breeds at the time the stud was established, well known for their carcass quality and their long wool.
“Back then there were only about five breeds that most people had, and the English Leicester’s were one of them,” he said.
The stud was originally established by James Ritchie using bloodlines from the Quamby sheep originally imported by Sir Richard Dry.
From 1851 to 1880 the Ritchie family added new bloodlines by purchasing rams from the stud owned by William Field of Enfield.
The sheep have been bred at Mayfield for five generations.
These days, Mr Ritchie joins about 20 ewes a year to keep the stud going.
He regularly buys in rams from some mainland studs to introduce new genetics.
As interest heritage breeds has increased, Mr Ritchie said there are some new people getting involved with the breed.
“There are a few more starting to take on these Leicesters now, but at one stage there were a heap of studs around,” he said.
“But over the years a lot of them have gone, so it’s good to see more people getting interested.”
Unlike many other breeds, the English Leicesters have not been modernised and studs have stuck with the original bred standards.
Looking at photos of sheep from the early 1900s, it is difficult to tell them apart from the sheep being bred today.
“In those days they were dual purpose and people used them to breed their fat lamb,” Mr Ritchie said.
“Back then though sheep weren’t very big, whereas now some of the breeds are huge The lambs in those days they only wanted them about 28 pounds, which is not very big. You wouldn’t even be able to sell one at that now.”
The sheep have long coarse wool of about 30 microns or broader.
Mr Ritchie said when the breed was popular in the 1900s the wool was commonly used on the rollers in the woolen mills.
The breed has also maintained its square body shape, excellent feet and quiet temperaments.
“If you look at the sheep now, they’re the same as they were many, many moons back,” he said.
Mr Ritchie said it was pleasing to know he was carrying on the family tradition.
He keeps some lambs as rams each year and said there was still some interest in people buying them and some ewes.
“There are still some people around that will buy a ram or a few ewes, so I do sell a few” he said.
He said maintaining the heritage breed genetics like English Leicesters was also important as more and more sheep breeds become modernised.