Welcome back to 'Over The Farm Gate', following the Christmas/Winter break I am really looking forward to starting the blog up again and begin visiting local farmers to share their stories and gather inspiration for my prints and designs. Last week I had my first farm visit of 2019 to local Shepherdess, Helena Wright. Helena keeps native Herdwick sheep which originate from central and western Lake District and would usually live on the highest of England’s mountains. I was lucky enough that I could find these beautiful sheep in the local village of Wood Norton. I went to see Helena and her Stark flock of Herdwicks to find out more about the Native breed and why she chose them.
Helena feeding her flock.
Helena's flock is called Stark Herdwicks, named after Game of Thrones which she loves!
How long have you been interested in sheep and how did you become so involved with them?
I have always been interested in “Livestock” in general with my family since I was born, but my own flock of sheep I have had since December 2017
What made you choose the Herdwick breed?
By chance on social media I saw a picture one day of a Herdwick (Herdy!) and I instantly fell in love with the breed and said these are my sheep!
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the breed?
The are native to the area of central and western Lake District and live on one of England’s highest mountains. The breed dates back to the 12th century with local folklore linking the breed to the Vikings. The name Herdwyck dates back to the 6th century and refers to “Sheep Pasture”. There is a lot of references to the Herdwick breed throughout the years along with Beatrix Potter being so passionate of her Herdwick sheep that upon her death left the National Trust all her 4000 acres, 21 farms and it was stipulated that her Herdwick flock must remain on these farms. Her Legacy remains one of the largest and most significant bequests ever made.
The Herdwick is distinctive looking with its small white head and large heavy fleece of dense wool.
How many Herdwick sheep do you now have in your flock?
I have 6 shearling ewes and 1 shearling tup.
You have just bought a ram, what specific qualities were you looking for?
The boys OR Rams must be masculine in character. Broad and full. Horns smooth and round, rising out well from the back of the head. Their face, jaw and top of head must be covered with strong, bristly hair and free from wool.
Legs must be straight and clean with big knees. Bristly hair and free from wool again. And both face and legs must be clear “hoar-frosted” (White) in colour.
Their wool should be heavy and dense with and undercoat of fine wool which is even in colour. Good quality all over their body. A strong ruffle or mane around the neck and top of shoulders. And a good strong tail.
No spots, brown or yellow in any part.
Helena's Ram Tormund with a Herwick ewe.
This year will be your first year lambing, how excited do you feel?
Nervous and Excited! I’m use to calving, but sheep are smaller scale. But I can’t wait to grow my own flock. And the lambs are completely black when they are first born! They then change colour as they get older, so I’m interested to see that for myself.
Will you lamb them outside or inside?
Herdwicks have good mothering instinct and I have been given advice that they are very much the independent type, so they will be outside but if they need help they have a nice new “maternity” pen to come into.
Will you be selling your lambs on or retaining some for breeding stock?
The plan is to keep my ewe lambs for breeding stock and I’m not sure on the ram lambs. Depending on how many I get, to sell on as breeding tups or for meat (But that’s another plan of mine 😊)
Arya, one of Helena's ewes due to lamb in March.
Helena took her Herdwick's to a handful of local agricultural shows in 2018.
Last year was your first attempt at showing, how did you find it?
I did get very nervous as again I have shown cattle, but sheep is a different thing again. However, I have met some great friendly people along the way. And that is the main thing. To enjoy what you do.
What do you look for in a good Quality Herdwick sheep?
Strong body, clean legs and face. Females must not have horns and have that “feminine” look to them. Then the Tups being “manly” as I call it. Good even colour of wool.
What is your favourite thing about owning sheep?
With my herdy’s it’s got to be the face! They always look like they are smiling. So, no matter what time of the day or night. Whatever sort of day I’m having they always make me smile. And they all have names which I’m sure they know it! As they all seem to live up to their character.
Helena with one of her favourite ewe's Arya.
What advice would you give someone looking to get sheep?
Speak to other’s who have the same breed as you. As each breed is different. Some need more prep than others. Always contact your breed association, as they are very helpful in pointing you in the right direction. And you got to like being cold and wet! No matter what the weather or time of day. So long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty then your fine!
A BIG thank you to Helena for taking the time to show me around her flock of Herdwick sheep. It was great to be back visiting a local farmer, I never get bored of hearing about peoples passions and stories. I am even more excited to go back and visit in March when Helena starts lambing!
I am Izzi, farmer’s daughter and textile designer at IzziRainey. If I am not designing or sewing you will find me out in the farmyard with my cattle. I am constantly seeking inspiration for my prints, not that I have to look very far. Growing up on the farm, I have always been influenced by my surroundings and this combined with my passion for farming is what inspires my designs. I love spending time on the farm but I also enjoy learning about other people’s animals, passions and stories, which are also influential to my design process. I hope you enjoy reading ‘Over the Farm Gate’