The Herdwick is a breed of domestic sheep native to the Lake District of Cumbria in North West England. The name “Herdwick” is derived from the Old Norse herdvyck, meaning sheep pasture.Though low in lambing capacity and perceived wool quality when compared to more common commercial breeds, Herdwicks are prized for their robust health, their ability to live solely on forage, and their tendency to be territorial and not to stray over the difficult upland terrain of the Lake District. It is considered that up to 99% of all Herdwick sheep are commercially farmed in the central and western Lake District.
The wool quality of a Herdwick has unique qualities relating to durability. Thick bristle type fibres will often protrude from garments forming a protective barrier layer in blizzards—most likely the same qualities that protect the sheep in similar conditions. They have been known to survive under a blanket of snow for three days while eating their own wool.
- Breed Name: Herdwick
- Other Name: None
- Breed Purpose: Mainly meat, also wool
- Breed Size: Small
- Horns: Rams have horns, but the ewes are polled
- Climate Tolerance: Native climates
- Color: Vary
- Rarity: Common
- Country/Place of Origin: United Kingdom
- Herdwick lambs are born with black fleeces, and it’s not until they’re about a year old that the wool on their heads grows out, revealing the fluffy white hair underneath! Over time, their fleeces turn to a dark brown and then to their characteristic grey, but their heads remain white.
- When sheared, a typical Herdwick fleece weighs between 2-3kg and at least one full fleece is used to create each of our snuggle-worthy mattresses – this certainly keeps the Lake District farmers busy during the summer months when shearing season is in full swing.
- Beatrix Potter is known to have been one of the saviours of the Herdwicks. She bought fell farms in the Lake District (preventing development on the land) and carefully bred the sheep across her 4,000 acres under guidance of the National Trust, helping bring the breed out of its threatene.
The Herdwick sheep are relatively smaller sized animals, as compared to some other popular sheep breeds. The lambs are born with black faces, legs and blue-roan fleeces which lighten in the adults. Their fleece lightens further to grey after the first shearing. The Herdwick rams are horned, while the ewes are naturally polled.
The root word of the breed’s name, herdvyck, “sheep pasture”, is recorded in documents dating back to the 12th century. The origin of the breed itself is unknown, but the most common theory is that the ancestors of Herdwick sheep were introduced by early Norse settlers. According to this, it was brought to the region somewhere between the 10th and 11th centuries during the Viking invasions of western England. Although a piece of local folklore once suggested that it came from a wrecked Spanish Armada ship it appears that the Herdwick was an important breed in the Lake District by the end of the 12th century.
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