The Herdwick is a breed of domestic sheep native to the Lake District of Cumbria in North West England. The name “Herdwick” is derived from the Old Norse herdvyck, meaning sheep pasture. Though low in lambing capacity and perceived wool quality when compared to more common commercial breeds such as Merino sheep, Herdwicks are prized for their robust health, their ability to live solely on forage, and their tendency to be territorial and not to stray over the difficult upland terrain of the Lake District. It is considered that up to 99% of all Herdwick sheep are commercially farmed in the central and western Lake District.
The wool quality of a Herdwick has unique qualities relating to durability. Thick bristle type fibres will often protrude from garments forming a protective barrier layer in blizzards — most likely the same qualities that protect the sheep in similar conditions. They have been known to survive under a blanket of snow for three days while eating their own wool.
A Herdwick’s grey fleece is not easily dyed, and is coarse, and so is best suited to use as carpet wool. The wool is also an excellent natural insulator; it is possible to buy sheets of fireproofed wool to fit as loft insulation.
This slowly maturing breed is one of the most hardy of all the British hill sheep breeds, withstanding the cold and relentless rain of the Lake District at heights upwards of 3,000 feet (about 1,000 metres).
We are reducing our other breeds and mainly concentrating on Herdwicks. We find them very easy to manage for the smallholder. In our experience they also lamb easily with few problems. They are excellent mothers and produce plenty of milk for the lambs.