hardy Herdwicks embrace the cold
Despite the warmer months slowly approaching, here in the Lakes the winter weather is keeping us on our toes and reminding us to put on an extra pair of socks.
Whilst it’s beautiful to walk along the trails of Windermere on a frosty morning, there are times when we genuinely wonder how our Herdwick sheep cope given how cold it gets on the fells. We like to think it’s to do with being northern, but we know that’s only part of it… so we’ve decided to delve into the historical roots of the Herdwick sheep to explain how they’re so hardy.
Having accompanied the first settlers of the Lakes, they have overcome many environmental adversities; including the uncompromising climate and largely open terrain of the fells. Being a hardy breed by nature, they’ve adapted to the harsh weather for thousands of years, particularly in the winter. Over the years it means that they stay in much better shape as they are able to roam around the mountains and have access to fresh air and free foraging – and we don’t mind them doing so if it keeps them happy while we wait for their fleeces to fully grow ready for shearing. It’s all worth it in the end!
Even though the Herdwicks are hardened to the winter weather, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t weary of the chill either. When the snow begins to settle over the mountains, the sheep use their instinct to find shelter and know when not to venture too far away from the farm. With that being the case, we wonder how anyone could think sheep are stupid!
Naturally, sheep have their own source of insulation all over their bodies which helps to keep the cold out. Luckily for them, the cold never reaches their skin thanks to their fleeces – which in the winter, we’re a little jealous of! Containing a selection of fibres including wool and kemp with a staple of up to 10 inches, their fleece creates an effective protective barrier against the elements. It’s this natural protection against the cold that makes wool such a reliable insulator for outerwear and carpets, keeping us, and our homes, warmer.
At herdy®sleep, the unique properties of the Herdwick’s wool is something we’ve taken note of, which is why we feel it’s perfect for our handmade mattresses. The beauty behind using wool to fill a mattress, over something synthetic, is that in addition to being a great insulator for when it’s cold, wool is also breathable enough to stop you from overheating in the summer. This means we can reap all the natural benefits of the Herdwick’s fleece, once the sheep are done with them.
Summer is an exciting time of year, as the Herdwicks make their way down the fells and shearing season begins. It’s an activity that we like to collaborate on with other farmers from around the area, especially as the shearing itself can be hard work. Today we use machines for the shearing to make sure the Herdwicks are clipped quickly, because, as I’m sure you can imagine, it can be a confusing process for our woolly friends too. The clippers are not so dissimilar to those used by hairdressers, driven back and forth over the fleece to ensure the wool is cut from the sheep as a beautiful, high quality fleece. It can be a frantic time for our farmers, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to see the newly shorn sheep playing in the sun, enjoying the warm summer air.
The Herdwick sheep are, for many, a symbol of the Lake District and we couldn’t embark on this new endeavour without them. Using the unique properties found in their wool, we are grateful for their northern hardiness which keeps them warm and well through the winter, year after year.