Winter with the Herdwicks
Cold rain, bitter wind and up to -10 degrees in the snow. This is winter for the herds of sheep that provide us with their wool for our mattresses. Find out more about what the Herdwicks are up to this season.
The winter weather doesn’t fill many of us with joy, but if you’re a pregnant sheep who lives on a mountain top, it’s particularly unwelcome. Our Herdwick ewe’s have just returned from being “tupped” and are left to roam the blustery fells as they please. Each ewe will stick to their “heaf”, or the same area of the mountain, where they suckled their mothers as lambs, and will suckle their young. Most of the central Lake District fells are difficult to access, particularly if the weather is inclement, so their heafing behaviour works in both the sheep’s and the farmer’s favour.
A Herdwick ewe is a particularly hardy animal, and she can cope well in the wind and the cold even when she’s carrying a lamb. Her coat is really thick and wiry, and sheds water. It means she can cope in extremes of hot and cold, which is why Herdwick wool is so perfect for use in mattresses!
The farmers’ main concern during this time is that the sheep are safe with plenty of food to keep them nourished and their unborn lambs healthy. Some farmers even put hay out for their sheep, but they are quite small, so they graze less than a commercial ewe anyway.
The hope is that the snow isn’t too heavy, because they don’t want ewes to get trapped or frozen into drifts. It has happened before, when the weather was more extreme, and Herdwicks had to eat their own fleeces to survive.
However, some of the older ewes can tell when the very bad weather is on its way, and they seek shelter to avoid the worst of the weather.