The Shepherding Story

The Shepherding Story

In this, our tenth anniversary year, we’re celebrating everything that’s great about the #GreatBritish LakeDistrict: its landscape, culture, communities, businesses and organisations that, together, make the Lake District a living, breathing place. Where better to start than with one of our region’s original economy drivers, the Lake District Upland Fell Farmer. Their contribution to the character, identity and landscape of the Lakes has helped drive generations of visitors to this unique and amazing place (17.1 million in 2016).

Sheep have been farmed on the high fells of the Lake District for thousands of years and it’s farming the high fells that gives the Lake District its unique look and character. While there are other tough sheep breeds around, any proper fell farmer will tell you, there’s really only one breed for the job - the Herdwick. It’s the right design with the right character. A hefted breed with great navigational and survival skills and a thick long tail to keep nasty drafts out of awkward places! 

Back in the day, before synthetic fibre took an inextricable grip on the textile industry, wool was an established commercial fibre with a whole suite of applications. The price of wool allowed even the humble Cumbrian and Westmorland flocks of Herdwick sheep to turn a profit. From military apparel to blankets, flooring and carpet the rufty-tufty Herdwicks with their bouncy, resilient wool coats had a clear purpose and that meant upland fell farmers were able to include the payment from every wool clip as part of their measurable farming income. In fact, for many tenanted farms the wool clip paid the annual farm rent. While those days have long gone the spirit and identity of the real upland fell farmer lives on. Herdwicks are now bred mainly for their meat which is renowned for being lean and particularly good in flavour (Lakeland Herdwick meat was awarded Protected Designation of Origin, PDO status, in 2012). The Herdwick’s need for minimal supplementary feeding, the fact that they readily adapt to most conditions and make excellent mothers have made them a very popular choice for cross breeding which has added to the commerciality of the breed. 

Choosing to be a shepherd in the Lakes is not a decision taken for fame and fortune. Not everyone would be happy to drag themselves out of bed at the crack of dawn to scramble up 2000-3000ft high fells on a freezing cold winter’s day to farm and care for these unique animals. Most fell farmers will say though, to be on that same fell side at the crack of dawn, on a perfect spring day, there’s nowhere else they’d rather be. 

Ten years ago we took our inspiration for herdy® from the irrepressible, smiley faced, Herdwick sheep. Today we’re celebrating the Herdwick farmers, the very people who look after this iconic little sheep. Long live the Lake District fell farmers. You know who you are and we think you’re great!

To find out more about our latest endeavours to support the use of Herdwick wool please go to herdysleep.com

If you’d like to join in the fun with #GreatBritishLakeDistrict show us what you think is great about the Great British Lake District. We’ll be giving away prizes for the best posts!

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