Romney passion rolls on at Radstock

Radstock Romneys celebrate 70 years of breeding


Life & Style
FAMILY TRADITION: Leslie Brewer (centre) and children Dusty Jones and Beau Gemmell with some of their Romney lambs at the Royal Adelaide Show last week.

FAMILY TRADITION: Leslie Brewer (centre) and children Dusty Jones and Beau Gemmell with some of their Romney lambs at the Royal Adelaide Show last week.

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Against the odds, the Brewer family from Strathalbyn has notched up a remarkable 70 years of breeding Romneys, and remains one of the breed's strongest supporters.

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Stud sheep breeding is a proud tradition for many but few reach the 70-year milestone that Strathalbyn's Radstock Romneys is celebrating this year.

Through the years, Helen Brewer and her daughter Leslie have also been wonderful stalwarts for the breed, which originated in the marshes in Kent in England, continuously showing either sheep or wool at the Royal Adelaide Show since the early 1960s.

Helen passed away in 2012 but the family's love of Romneys has been passed onto Leslie's daughter Dusty Jones, who is studying veterinary science at the University of Adelaide, and son Beau Gemmell, who is still at school.

"Dusty has a natural knack with the sheep so I know the stud is in good hands and Beau is also extremely keen, so I see the stud getting a lot bigger again into the future," Leslie said.

It was fitting in their milestone year that Radstock took out champion heaviest British Breed fleece at Adelaide with a 7.3-kilogram fleece that was the supreme longwool fleece at the Yankalilla Show.

"Weight is so important - you have to have good, gutsy wool and in my breed that weight is pretty good because being dual-purpose, they put a lot of effort into the meat," Leslie said.

RELATED:Leslie second generation to receive life membership

With their 11 fleeces, Radstock also won champion Romney ram and ewe fleeces and pipped the Polwarth and Corriedale entries for champion country shows fleece other than a Merino.

Radstock also exhibited sheep but missed out on the major titles.

But there has been plenty of success in the show ring through the years, including champion ram in just their second year showing.

Leslie also remembers a standout ram that was champion twice at Adelaide and reserve on two other occasions.

When the ram was shorn, its fleece won supreme British breed fleece.

"It won 18 straight interbreeds at country shows too," she said.

Radstock's history can be traced back to 1949, when Helen Brewer and her husband Charlie - who was an engineer at Horwood Bagshaw - bought a property at Birdwood.

Foundation breeders for the stud were bought from the Rundles at Tea Tree Gully and the Spiers family at Furner.

In the early 1950s, the Brewers bought a larger property at Strathalbyn that also ran Red Poll cattle, but in 1958, just months before the birth of their daughter Leslie, Charlie passed away.

Radstock Romney breeder Leslie Brewer is confident in the stud's future with son Beau and daughter Dusty both very interested in continuing the tradition.

Radstock Romney breeder Leslie Brewer is confident in the stud's future with son Beau and daughter Dusty both very interested in continuing the tradition.

Rather than selling up, Leslie says her mother was determined to see the couple's dreams of being successful in the stud world realised.

At its height, Radstock's flock comprised more than 150 ewes, along with a large commercial prime lamb operation.

It sold rams across Australia, including at the Perth Royal Show where they would also show.

Leslie says the breed has adapted well to Australian conditions.

"We made the decision to drop the Marsh from Romney Marsh as an association in the 1980s to let people know that they do well in all our climates and we have tried to breed them higher and with a little more length," she said.

"They have always been a big sheep but we have bred them bigger and it is good to keep that open face in Australia."

Presently serving as the federal president of the Australian Romney Association, Leslie says showing has been important to keep the heritage breed in the public eye.

"Like everything, you have to keep promoting it and the shows are one of the cheapest ways of advertising," she said.

Her unwavering dedication to the breed saw Leslie made a life member of the Australian Romney Association in 2017 - the same honour bestowed on her mother Helen, making it even more special.

Next year Leslie will notch up 40 years as a sheep steward at the Royal Adelaide Show, this year officiating at the Southdown, Ryelands and Hampshire Downs.

There are many wonderful families who have much larger flocks and bring more sheep to the show but I like to think that I am doing my bit with an old English breed. - Radstock Romney breeder Leslie Gemmell

"For me it is not just about being in the ring and doing the paperwork but looking after the judge and ensuring they get to know our show so they know Adelaide royal is the best," she said.

In the past few years, Radstock's stud flock has dropped to between 30 and 40 ewes but Leslie is looking to rebuild numbers.

"The Romney isn't as big (in numbers) as what it was in the 1960s and 1970s but it is still a very good breed of sheep because of the dual-purpose nature to go over the Merino and then put a Suffolk, White Suffolk over that for a good prime lamb," she said.

Leslie says there are also sentimental reasons to keep the stud going well into the future.

"Mum would be pleased with our dedication to the breed to reach 70 years and knowing it is a good strong breed in the country with some big commercial flocks, especially in Vic," she said.

"There are many wonderful families who have much larger flocks and bring more sheep to the show but I like to think that I am doing my bit with an old English breed."

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