By George Munene
On 20 acres in Dundori, Nyandarua County, Mwangi and Njeri Muchemi keep around 300 head of a much-in-demand sheep unknown to many Kenyan farmers: The Hampshire Down.
Originally from England, the large white sheep is prized for its superior, flavourful and lean mutton. In January of this year lamb cutlets of the sheep sold for a record Sh12,108 ($100) a kilogram in Australia. This has seen it dubbed the Wagyu of sheep, after the Japanese cow that makes the world’s most expensive cut of meat.
“We had the fortune of tasting mutton from the Hampshire Down some 15 years ago. I had never tasted anything as good. When we got back home we started replacing all our Merino Sheep with the breed.
You do not really need to sell this sheep to people, just let them taste its meat and it’ll do it,” said Njeri.
The over decade-long journey to establishing Mucemi Farm has however been no small feat.
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“They are a novel sheep in Kenya. We only knew one other farmer who bred pure Hampshires and whose herd we had confidence in,” she informed.
To attain the best foundation stock, grow the herd, and avoid inbreeding, they imported 15 sheep from South Africa in 2015 at a cost of about Sh150,000 a sheep. Disastrously, 10 of them died owing to failure to acclimatise to the Kenyan climate and being on a different diet and feed brands from what they were used to. Some of the bucks were also poor breeders. For Njeri though, this was a harsh lesson in the teething problems of getting started in livestock husbandry: “It was devastating but we took it all in stride. If it wasn’t before, it became very clear in our minds that we needed to invest our time and efforts into getting this right.”
As they gear up to sell half of their flock before the end of the year, she says they are still working on getting things right.
White-coloured with dark blotches around the face, ears, and legs, the breed is classed as dual-purpose as it can be sheared for wool.
They are active but mild-mannered sheep with excellent mothering abilities.
Hampshire males are highly propotent and require separation from their mothers at three or four months to avoid inbreeding.
They are large and reputed for their rapid growth and efficiency in converting feed to meat.
In Njeri’s experience at four months they weigh between 15 and 20 kilograms; 30-35 kilos at six months old; 40-50 kg at eight and 75-80 kilos at 10 months to a year. She however cautions against letting breeding bucks cross over the 75-kilo mark as this makes them lazy and ineffective breeders.
The farm sells breeding rams for between Sh20,000-Sh35,000 and has a yearly cull of their ewes.
“We largely feed them on paddocked pasture, supplementing them with salts, dry matter, and concentrates. We’ve found that this not only enhances their growth rate but limits bloating and intestinal worms,” she said.
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As their numbers swell the couple is looking to adopt a semi-zero-grazing system of feeding.
On average, the sheep consume 1.5 kilograms of pasture and 100 to 200 grams of dry matter daily. Their intake of concentrates is raised during flushing, steaming up, and when ewes are close to parturition.
They are a hardy breed that is adaptable to varied climatic conditions but from Njeri’s experience, they thrive in high altitudes.
Some of the husbandry practices they have kept their flock free of the disease include:
Deworming– this is done monthly; dipping– done before serving; and shearing– twice a year. Their sheep pens are well-raised with slatted floors that have gaps that enable for collection of droppings. Their housing is disinfected weekly. Proper documentation is also critical to avoid inbreeding.
Mucemi Farm: 0722361116