As you enter the Durham Dales, you’ll find a flock of Lleyn sheep grazing the fields of Low Harperley Farm, looked after by farmer, Paul Allison. It’s here where the lamb for our new restaurant Forge is reared.
We pulled on our warmest coats, wellingtons and took a trip to the farm to chat to Paul to find out more about the Low Harperley flock, farming and Forge.
How long have sheep been raised on your farm?
Low Harperley has been a grassland farm for centuries. Sheep have been farmed here for at least 800 years.
How did you choose the breed of sheep you wanted to rear? And why?
We rear a Lleyn flock, they are a native British breed originating from north-west Wales. I like the breed because they are hardy enough for the Weardale climate and are good mothers to their young, and at the same time being fertile and productive. Because we have one pure breed, we can keep the best females as replacement ewes, which enables us to be a “closed flock”. This means our primary strategy for avoiding diseases is that we don’t bring any into the flock through annual purchase of breeding females.
How does your approach to sheep farming affect the taste and texture of the product?
Our sheep deserve to live their very best life possible and we do everything we can to give it to them. Animal welfare is everything to us. The amount of stress the animal goes through in its lifetime plays a huge part in the quality of the meat.
We make sure our flock has a healthy relaxed lifestyle. They live outside, grazing on grass in stable social groups and are looked after by the same people for their whole lives.
What do you feed your lambs and how does their diet and nutrition impact the meat?
Our lambs only ever suckle their mother’s milk and graze grass. They are never fed concentrates. Grass fed meat is known to be more flavoursome and healthier than meat produced in more intensive systems.
In the winter we provide the pregnant ewes with haylage (conserved grass) and just before lambing give them an energy boost with some whole oats and beans. We don’t use manufactured compound feeds.
Do you use any sustainable farming methods when rearing sheep?
We soil test regularly, so that we can minimise the use of chemicals on the land. All the haylage comes from our own farm. Grass pastures are also fantastic Carbon sinks that absorb and lock up Carbon Dioxide.
What is your favourite way to eat lamb?
Difficult question. It’s probably Lancashire hotpot; or maybe roast leg of lamb with roast vegetables, onion sauce and gravy; or possibly lamb chops. Then again, I am partial to lamb’s liver with onions and bacon.
We’re super excited to serve your lamb in our new Restaurant, Forge. What are you most looking forward to?
The chefs at Middleton Lodge are fantastic and I love what they do with our lamb, so I’m most looking forward to hearing the response of the restaurant’s customers to that. As farmers, we are quite remote from the end consumers of our produce. Most of our lambs go through the retail chain, so we don’t often get direct feedback from the people that actually eat our lamb.
I’m also looking forward to seeing the various ways the lamb is used in the different restaurants across the estate. The Forge focuses on elemental flavours and tells a true story of Middleton Lodge and the local countryside, so, in combination with the more traditional cuisine of the Coach House and the catering for events and weddings, it’ll be great to see how the estate can use the whole lamb, from nose to tail.