Herdwick Sheep

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What are my special features?

The Herdwick breed is a member of the ‘primitive breeds’ group and is subdivided into three major categories defined by sex and age profile: young wether lambs of up to 18 months old which are usually castrated males; mature wethers of 18 months-4 years and fattened cast ewes.

Herdwick sheep are slow-growing, hardy and ‘heafed’, meaning that they possess a homing instinct whereby they return to their native pastures when moved. The sheep are also partially responsible for the bleakness of some of Lake District fells. This is because, like most sheep, they graze the grass very closely inhibiting the growth of tree cover.

Herdwick lambs are born black and become paler with age whilst the older adult sheep are white. A blend of the wool from sheep of different ages is of a characteristic grey shade, once seen in locally produced cloth and still used today in knitting yarn. The meat is lean and slightly gamey in flavour.

In 2013 Lakeland Herdwick sheep were granted PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, a very exciting development which should help promote recognition of the importance of the Herdwick sheep in our agricultural heritage.

What is my history?

Herdwick sheep have traditionally been bred in the fells and pastures of the Lake District in Cumbria, England and are unique to this area. The origin of the breed is not well documented, but it is thought that the sheep were introduced to the area during the Viking invasions of Western England.

The breeds staunchest defender was Mrs William Heelis, better known as children’s author Beatrix Potter. She maintained Herdwick sheep on her estates and gave much of her land to the National Trust, on the condition that Herdwick sheep be grazed on it.

Why am I forgotten?

By the late 20th Century, the breed became rare outside the Lake District. The foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 severely affected the region and though many flocks were culled, numbers are recovering.

Don’t lose me… cook me!

Product Category:

Breeds

Area of production:

Lake District, Cumbria

Slow Food UK Contact:

arkoftaste@slowfood.org.uk

Producers:

Sheepdrove Organic Farm

Society:

Herdwick Sheep Breeders Society

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