Perhaps because they always appear to be smiling, the Herdwick has one of the most distinctive and attractive of sheep faces. They are considered the hardiest of the British breeds but sadly listed as a vulnerable rare breed. The Herdwick sheep have a heavy, dense fleece with a fine undercoat adapted for the harsh weather conditions of their traditional home – the high, exposed and wind-swept Cumbrian fells of the Lake District.
Herdwick sheep flocks were historically managed in such a way that the sheep knew which bit of the fell they were supposed to graze, and unlike most other sheep breeds they keep to this ‘heaf’. Each generation of sheep passing this knowledge on to their offspring, so, because these unique sheep have this in-built homing instinct it would be disastrous if the flock were sold when a farmer retired. So Lake District farms are bought or rented with the existing flocks of sheep in place (‘landlord flocks’). Incoming farmers inherit the flocks that belong to the land, and which have been in place for centuries, with respected peers’ setting the price of purchase and judging the condition of the stock. Herdwick sheep are, literally, the living culture of the farming people of the Lake District.
Follow a shepherding year…