Herdy wordies

strapping little things with gorgeous faces and knock kneed chunky legs; totally adorable...

Herdy wordies

18th April 18

There is a phrase used to describe pasture that is grazed exclusively by equines. “Horse sick”.  Horses know their bodies and needs and so they are picky and choosy; favouring some grasses and plants over others and pasture, without proper management, will quickly become very poor indeed.  Consequently, anyone who keeps equines on their own land will in all likelihood eventually feel the need for sentient lawnmowers to eat all the bits that horses leave.  At least that’s how I started.  

I began with 6 Kerry Hill retirement ewes from Linda Barnard in Malton. They arrived on Valentine’s Day so we called them the valentine girls and they were all named after jewels.  The only remaining stalwart from that gang is Pearly Girly and she is still going strong at 13.  I owe a debt of gratitude to those girls because on them I worked out the routines of worming, foot care, vaccination, clipping, basic first aid and all the other stuff that must be done with sheep and that needs to be learned if one has not been born and raised into it.  Those girls were my practice models.  Pearl has lived long enough to get the 5 star treatment from my now 10 years experience.  The others tolerated my often ill conceived and badly planned management routines with exceedingly good grace.  Bless them all.

I loved my Kerry’s and when Sapphire, Emerald and Ruby got to the ends of their lives I got another bunch of retired girls from Linda.  Then after 4 years of Kerrys I thought I would have a go at breeding and in that case, ought to get a smaller breed.  After not nearly enough research I bought 4 beautiful Hebriddean lambs from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.  Gorgeous they were but tame they were not.  The primitive breeds tend to be quite flighty and athletic and after some considered thought I decided that trying to lamb 4 lively girls with horns was perhaps not the right scenario for a newbie to lambing.  Back to the drawing board and this time plenty of research.  Enter the Herdwicks.  I loved their faces, their chunky legs, their little knock knees, everything about them.

Having determined the breed I then had the challenge of finding a breeder with the right credentials, because I will only buy stock from people or organisations with sufficiently compatible ethics. Enter Emeritus Professor Dianna Bowles.  What a find!

I read every page of her website, was blown away and got in touch.  I wanted to meet Dianna almost as much as I wanted the sheep.  Being an academic Dianna told me she would not give me first class honours quality stock because she didn’t know me, but she would sell me some good quality 2:1 lambs.  Honestly, that is exactly what she said!  So along came Brenda, Flo, Daphne and Doris Day and I was in love from day 1.  What fun these girls were and how quiet and easy to manage.  They were a pleasure to have around and when the time came for breeding they were to go to Dianna’s to meet the right man.  But fate intervened, and just before they were to go back to Dianna, she unexpectedly needed somebody to look after her very gentlemanly “Teddy the Tup”.  Now Teddy is a truly topping Tup.  Impeccable manners, well bred and handsome to boot.  Suffice to say that Teddy came for a romantic break and he never left!  So that was an unexpected little project for me to manage... 

In due course it was time for the lambs to make their appearance and that was the biggest shocker of all.  I live in a farming community so I am well aware of the need to avoid speaking to anyone who is in the middle of lambing.  Naively I had thought that was because of the necessity of being up all hours and the inevitable sleep deprivation.  Not so.  I can hand on heart truly say that the only other time I have been so thoroughly and completely obsessed with something was when my own children were born.  The business is all consuming.  I thought of nothing else but my girls, fretting constantly, waking intuitively when they all lambed.  Diary notes were spot on and 3 sets of twins and a singleton arrived all on time.  We had a couple of little set backs, one my own inexperience and one not, but all was well eventually and we have Barney, Betty, Ralph, Rosie, Marjorie, Gladys and Joyce.  All strapping lambs.  All of these little darlings will go to smallholders or shepherds for breeding or grassland managements apart from Ralph who will stay to keep Teddy company when he cannot be with his wives.  My relationship with my girls has fundamentally changed.   We have been through the greatest miracle on earth together and it is difficult to put that into words, but they are my treasured foundation ewes of my Herdwick flock and we will never be parted.  It goes without saying that I now have perfect pasture.

The herdwick breed is hardy, quiet, easy to manage in all respects and ails very little.  Their gorgeous little faces have a very particular appeal to the extent that the Herdy company specialises entirely in products based around or associated with the breed.  If that doesn’t convince you, here’s a pic of Marjorie, daughter of Daphne, and one of my first crop of cracking Herdwick lambs. Not a bad start eh?



Dianna continues to educate and inspire me, and I can’t wait to see the little herdy wool dog coats, cushion covers and rugs she is in the process of producing.  But more than all of that; she is simply marvellous company and I am privileged to have met her.