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Herdwick Sheep   EFABIS Data


International Name

Herdwick Sheep

Local Name

Herdwick Sheep


Lake District, Cumbria

Breeding females



Trend of population size


Flock book established



Origin – history

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. Alternatively, a piece of local folklore once suggested that it came from a wrecked Spanish Armada ship.


 Breed description

The breed has a range of colours from brown to grey to cream, or a blend, but not spotted. They have white heads and legs. The lambs are born totally black. The face then turns white with age and the fleece changes to its adult, pale, colour. The fleece is exceptionally waterproof. Ewes are polled, while rams are usually horned, these being curled in type. They are strong boned and have good conformation for a hill sheep.

They are a small dual-purpose breed, producing a strongly flavoured meat and a coarse, grey wool, the ewes reaching 35 – 45 Kg, the rams, 65 – 75 Kg. This slowly maturing breed is one of the most hardy of all the British hill sheep breeds, easily capable of withstanding the cold and rain of the Lake District at heights upwards of about 1,000 metres.  Most Herdwicks over-winter on the fells, without supplementary feeding, but the ewes stay in their heaf, the same small area of fell. Due to the rough conditions on fells, lambing losses can be high. This ability to thrive unassisted is part of the reason they are so highly valued over much higher-producing lowland breeds. Their coarse, grey fleece is useful for carpets and building insulation. Herdwick lamb and mutton is excellent meat and the ewe produces good meat lamb when crossed with Suffolk, Cheviot, Charollais and Texel sheep. . Rams are sometimes used with other hill breeds to improve hardiness.

The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 led to the destruction of many flocks and fear for the survival of the breed. Of the estimated 75.000 Herdwick sheep present before the outbreak, a full 30.000 were lost. The Flock Book was established in 1916.


Conservation activities


The Breed Society hosts shows specifically for the Herdwick sheep.

The Herdwick’s hardiness and ability to graze over a wide area of fell is key to the maintenance of the Lake District landscape as we know it.

The husbandry of Herdwick sheep is a large factor in shaping the culture and terrain of the Lake District. Topographically, grazing by sheep continues to keep the fellsides largely treeless, and the dry stone walls of the valleys were built to confine livestock.

Meat sales from farm door and local markeys.


Cryopreservation of semen, NSP stores, 6.257 doses Heritage gene bank 2.196 semen doses embryos


ContactThe Breed Society is the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association. 

                Secretary, Mr G Brown, The Old Stables, Redhills, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 0DT



Action Heritage Sheep AGRI GEN RES 040 receives financial support from the European Commission, Genetic Resources in Agriculture, under European Commission Council Regulation (EC) No 870/2004 AGRI GEN RES 2006 HERITAGE SHEEP