Belmont Kerry Hills NZ showcases cute but meaty and functional sheep breed

Kerry Hill is a very unique breed with pricked ears, identical markings including a black ring around their nose and each eye and black points on their feet and knees. While their ears are black, their wool is white.

Like her parents, South Canterbury sheep and beef farmers Chris and Annabelle Hampton, Elizabeth Hampton shares a passion for genetics and two years ago embarked on a project to breed the very cute but meaty and functional Kerry Hill sheep.

“Kerry Hill is a heritage breed of sheep from the UK,” explains Elizabeth. “Based out of Wales, it was one of the more dominant commercial breeds about 100 years ago, before farmers switched to the mule breed; a cross between a Bluefaced Leicester ram and a purebred hill ewe. Towards the end of the 20th century, the breed was on the decline. But then, someone thought they would start to breed them a bit more seriously, and they have taken off in the UK pedigree side of things.”

Elizabeth, who farms alongside her parents on their 950-hectare rolling to steep farm, says she first set eyes on the Kerry Hill breed on Facebook about six years ago and thought they looked pretty cool.

“They’re very unique with pricked ears that stand up like a rabbit, and they have identical markings including a black ring around their nose and each eye, their ears are black, they have black points on their feet and knees, and they have white wool. They look quite quirky and comedic with lots of expression.”

The opportunity to progress her fascination with the breed came in 2019 when Elizabeth headed to the UK to work for Farmgene, an AI embryo sheep implanting facility in Shropshire, not far from where Kerry Hill originated from.

“I had it in the back of my mind to scout out some Kerry Hill genetics to bring back to New Zealand. My boss thought this was a great idea and said he would help me. Covid came into play and I came home early, but my boss continued sourcing genetics, and at the end of 2021 had found some embryos.”

“He was travelling to New Zealand in April 2022 and offered to implant the embryos. From that, I got twenty live Kerry Hill lambs and the same happened this year, again using embryo implants.”

With four different rams being used for each year of embryos, Elizabeth has enough genetic diversity in her little flock, to continue her breeding programme for a year or two without importing more embryos.

Elizabeth’s original plan was to market the sheep as a lifestyle breed that looks cute, but can actually function on its own. Traditionally a terminal breed, they are very meaty and highly functional sheep. “That’s still the plan, but I’ve been wanting to increase my flock numbers and this year we mated 100 Perendale ewes to two separate Kerry Hill ram lambs and now have about 120 first cross Kerrydales.”

“While the black is not quite as strong, the lambs have come out with black around the eyes, black around the nose, black points and pricked ears.”

Going forward, the plan now is for Elizabeth to retain some ewe lambs for herself, but sell some of the first cross Kerrydales along with some purebred ram lambs as a package deal to people who want to further their little Kerry Hill breeding programme, as well as lifestylers.

© Waterford Press Ltd 2023 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

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