top of page
  • .

Herdwick Sheep Gaining Popularity

Herdwick sheep, known as the smiling sheep, are born with black bodies and white faces. The first semen was imported to an Oregon sheep farmer in 2008. Erin and Ray Bradt have been breeding Herdwicks since 2012. With more than 70 head, Erin is believed to have the largest Herdwick flock in the U.S. “We first saw them on a PBS special and began to research them,” says Erin Bradt. “I learned about Linda Stimson, who imported the first semen and began a breeding program. We purchased two 75 percent rams and four 62.5 percent ewes from her.” Bradt added to her genetics in 2018 with semen initially imported by Stimson and again in 2022 with additional semen imports. Since then, she has imported another 400 straws of Herdwick semen. Introducing a breed through semen imports is a years-long process, especially when import restrictions are put in place or changed. Herdwicks are native to the Lake District in England and survive winter at 3,000 ft. elevation. “We were looking for an oldfashioned sheep breed that’s low input, and the Herdwicks are awesome,” says Bradt. “They get fat on shrubs and weeds. We practice rotational grazing and have had them on pasture from April through January. We rarely feed grain.” Herdwicks are a dual-purpose wool and meat breed. The fleece is unique, with four separate fibers. “Farmers who raise them in England attest that they’re the first to dry off after a heavy rain,” says Bradt. “Water sheds right off the fleece. It’s coarse but very warm.” The breed is slow to mature. Bradt waits up to 18 mos. to breed ewe lambs. While born black-bodied, the fleece on purebred animals lightens with shearing to brown and finally a blue-gray. Bradt suggests that even a 50 percent Herdwick can be born with that breed’s coloring, no matter the foundation ewe. Her Herdwicks are still larger than purebreds, but she’s getting closer to the 100-lb. average for ewes and 175-lb. average for rams. They have a high meat-to-bone ratio. Herdwicks are ideal for small landholders, suggests Bradt. The Herdwick breed has been recorded as far back as the 12th centure. And genetically it is still wild, unlike other commercialised breeds, with 90% of its global population in Cumbria. With their thick wool coats, and wool on their faces too, this is a sheep that is adapted for high altitude slopes. Little ears stop them losing heat, they have wool on their thick stocky legs and a double-layer coat; the first layer is fleece, and on top of that they have a woolly overcoat with long hairs which flick off moisture and help keep them wind and water proof. Herdwick is derived from "herdvyck" the old Norse word for sheep pasture. Herdwick lambs are always born black. By the time they are a year old, the Herdwick's fleece has turned a dark chocolate brown and their heads a milk white. As they age their coats become a mesh of greys, browns, blacks and whites creating that distinctive hue that wows. Their wool is thick and wiry, and lacks the finery of other fleeces.

2 views0 comments


bottom of page