The Sheep Breeds in Cumbria and the Lake District
Huge numbers of sheep are reared on the hill farms and moorlands of Cumbria. The sheep population of Cumbria is around three million.
The Herdwick, the Rough Fell and their close neighbour the Swaledale have been bred and reared to withstand the climate. The Herdwick and Rough Fell in particular have been shepherded generation on generation, possibly back to early medieval times, to their own hill territory or “heaf”, to which they will always return. Many hill farms have “fell rights” on which to pasture sheep, cattle and occasionally ponies.
The North Country Mule is a cross breed common in Cumbria.
Sheep produce their lambs in spring and the youngest tenderest meat is available from June to August. Lambs born later do not reach the shops until further on in the year and have a more mature flavour. Mutton, the meat of a fully grown sheep, once staple fare throughout the country but no longer produced in any quantity, can still occasionally be bought in the Lake District, where it comes from Herdwick sheep. Many regional dishes use lamb.
Cumbria without sheep would not be Cumbria. They have been the mainstay of the economy from time out of mind.
The main income from sheep today is the sale of their lambs, but in times past the wool was equally important. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in Parliament is still seated on “The Woolsack” in recognition of wool’s historic value.
The upland breeds of sheep found in Cumbria
The Herdwick. Herdwick sheep are the native breed of the central and western Lake District and live on the highest of England’s mountains.
They are extremely hardy and are managed in the traditional way on the lake District fells that have been their home for generations. the word “Herdwyck” meaning sheep pasture, is recorded in documents going back to the 12th century.
Herdwick sheep are the most hardy of all Britain’s breeds of hill sheep, grazing the Central and Western dales of the Lake District with fells running to over three thousand feet.
The Swaledale The Swaledale sheep has proved itself to be a bold, hardy sheep, well fitted to endure the hardships of exposed and high lying situations.
It is of an alert nature and is a good thriver. The ewes make most excellent lamb shearers. The wool is admitted to be more durable in wear and of even texture.
Being excellent feeders and of strong constitution, as mutton producers they are second to none.
The Rough Fell Although the breed is litle known nationwide it is enormously popular on its native mountain and moorland farms, embracing a large proportion of South Cumbria.
Rough Fell lambs are exceptionally fine looking large majestic horned animals with black and white marked face and deep body carcass.
Mostly they are used by farmers on their native fell land farms for pure breeding, yet many go for crossing, instilling the virtues and qualities of the Rough fell sheep in other breeeds.
Lowland sheep breeds of sheep in Cumbria
The North of England Mule. The North of England Mule is unsurpassed as a profitable, easy care ewe. It is sired by the Bluefaced Leicester and its dam is a Swaledale or Northumberland type Blackface, both breeds known for their hardiness.
The breed is in demand by farmers looking for a ewe to breed and rear large crops of quality lambs in the lowlands.
The Suffolk. The Suffolk evolved from the mating of Norfolk Horn ewes with Southdown Norfolks, these sheep being known as Southdown Norfolks, or locally as “Blackfaces”.
Originally renowned as a producer of mutton, the breed has developed over the years to match consumer demands.
Suffolks are now found throughout the world’s sheep producing countries. They are the flagship breed in the British Isles and recognised as the leading terminal sire on a variety of ewes to produce top quality prime lamb.
The Texel. The Texel sheep originates from the Island of Texel, one of the North Western Islands off Holland, where it has been known since Roman times.
The Texel has primarily been developed as a meat breed. Its harsh native environment has led to the development of a sheep that thrives on poor pastures and requires only modest amounts of feed in the run-up to lambing and whilst suckling.
Texel lambs have a tremendous get-up-and-go attitude, searching hard for milk as soon as they are born.
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