Lake District, Cumbria
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.
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
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.
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
The Flock Book was established in 1916.
Society hosts shows specifically for the Herdwick sheep.
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.
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.
from farm door and local markeys.
Cryopreservation of semen, NSP stores, 6.257 doses Heritage gene
bank 2.196 semen doses embryos
Breed Society is the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association.
Secretary, Mr G Brown, The Old Stables, Redhills, Penrith, Cumbria,