Herdwicks: The 'smiley' sheep that shaped the Lake District

Herdwicks: The 'smiley' sheep that shaped the Lake District

29th October 2022

With their grey-streaked coats and white heads, the Herdwick sheep are a distinctive feature of the Lake District landscape. They have been dotted around the hilltops for centuries and the breed's survival was helped by the author and illustrator Beatrix Potter. 

The Herdwick breed is some 10,000 years old and genetically it is still effectively wild, unlike other commercialised breeds, with 90% of its global population in Cumbria.

It is a sheep "beautifully adapted" for the high altitude slopes abundant in the Lake District.

The Herdwick, whose name derives from "herdvyck" the old Norse word for sheep pasture, has helped shape the Lake District.

The system of farming has barely changed since the Vikings arrived in the 8th Century.

In July the sheep are gathered up, brought down to the farms and sheared.
Around October they are rounded up again for tupping (breeding), with the lambs expected in April and May.

There are  more than 230 Herdwick farms in Cumbria, while there are 90 flocks of more than 25 sheep.

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