Saturday, 21 April 2012

Sheep - sturdy but sometimes silly

I mulled over what to choose for S – maybe Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in the Lake District, or Stone Circles, of which there are several examples, or even Steamboats and Sailing. But then the obvious S hit me in the face (though not literally, fortunately) –Sheep.

Wherever you go in Lakeland, you’ll see sheep—hundreds of them. After a short visit to the Lake District, a young American friend of my daughter said, “I’ve never seen so many sheep in my whole life.”

Many's the time I've had to slam the brakes on when a stray sheep had wandered into the road, and then stood there, staring at me and my car as if to say, "I'll move away when I feel like it." And, of course, there were the other times when the farmer was moving a flock from one field to another and you crawl along behind them, while the sheepdog tries to round up the strays which have decided to stop and graze on the roadside verges. At times like that, there's no point thinking you're going to get somewhere quickly, because you can't!

Herdwick sheep are indigenous to the Lake District. The name comes from the Old Norse word herdvyck, meaning sheep pasture and it’s probable that the Herdwick ancestors were brought to the area by the Vikings in the 10th century.

It’s said that 99% of all Herdwick sheep are farmed in the Lake District and that 95% of them live within 14 miles of Coniston in the southern Lakes. This makes them vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, and it’s estimated that 25% were lost in the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001.

They’re known for their robustness and their ability to live on forage. They spend the winters on the fells, and usually stay within their own grazing area, due to their territorial tendencies. In the past, some sheep farms were granted fell rights, allowing them to use common grazing land. This led to the enclosing of the lower fells with dry stone walls, marking off one’s farmer’s land from another’s.

Herdwicks are reared for both meat and wool. They produce strongly flavoured lamb and mutton, and their wool, coarse and grey, is often used for carpets.

Sheep-farmers use their own counting system which derive from Celtic times. This varies from place to place, especially in Cumbria, Yorkshire and Derbyshire. There’s even a slight difference between the North and South Lakes. Back in the sixties, I heard an old farmer using this system of counting, but I’m not sure how prevalent it is now, with many old traditions dying out.
Here are some of the numbers:
1 = yan
2 = tan
3 = teddera
4 = meddera
5 = pimp
6 = settera
7 = lettera
8 = hovera
9 = dovera
10 = dick
Numbers 11-14 add the yan, tan etc to dick, 15 = bumfit, and 16-19 add the yan, tan etc to bumfit. Finally 20 = jiggot.
That’s as far as the numbering went. To count a larger number of sheep, a shepherd would move his finger to another notch on his stick or drop a pebble in his pocket for each 20 of the count.

In spring, our farmer used to keep the newborn lambs with their mothers in the field where we had our caravan. One morning we were woken up to the sound of frantic bleating, coming from UNDER the caravan. We investigated and found that one of the lambs had somehow managed to get through the fence surrounding the caravans, and couldn't find its way out again. We managed to persuade it to go back through the gate into the field, where it rejoined its mother who had been baa-ing loudly. In sheep talk, I'm sure she was saying 'I TOLD you not to go near that fence ...'


  1. Some interesting stuff here :) I love the cheese!

  2. Fascinating details about sheep. We walkers were tramping from Stavely to Bowness on the Dalesway. We settled for our lunch in a field. Far in the distance were a lot of sheep, suddenly they turned and all stampeded towards us. So different from sheep running away. They hung around until we had eaten, must have thought we had food for them. Last time we were out there we saw a sheep delivering a lamb, the tiny little creature was soon up on its feet. Such a gift to see things like this.

  3. We have similar problems here with goats. More intelligent than sheep but still can hold you up. We have to write in a goat factor when calculating travelling times.
    Love the old counting system. It is, as you know, the basis for nursery rhymes such as 'Hickory, dickory dock' and Hecketty Pecketty, my red hen'

  4. Thanks, Claudia!

    Margaret - the sheep in our field used to gather by the fence peering down into the caravan. I'm sure they were waiting for some food too! And how lovely to see a lamb actually being born. They are so cute when tiny.

    Jenny - LOL@goat factor! I knew the Hickory Dickory numbering, but hadn't linked it with Hecketty Pecketty. Just shows, you learn something new evey day!

  5. As a tourist, I would think I'd died and gone to heaven if I stumbled upon a farmer and his dogs working their sheep down the road. Gorgeous photos.

  6. I remember seeing small lambs frolic on the hillsides in Ireland and think, "Wow, they really are having fun." Not much interested in eating them after that!

  7. Can't believe there are so many types of sheep! We weer just out in our countryside this morning and had to watch out for sheep straying onto the narrow road.

  8. Jaye - watching the sheepdogs at work is fascinating, they seem to know just where to move to get the sheep going in the right direction.

    Beth - I used to love watching the lambs running and leaping around. As you say, they seem tobe having so much fun.

    Rosemary - sheep can be a hazard on any country road, can't they? Especially if they strayed from a field and can't find their way back.

  9. With us, it's the farm equipment that block our road at times, but they do try to be courteous and move over when the can to wave us around. Once a baby pig got out and on the road and my son went to try to help persuade him off the road. We also get wild turkeys ambling across.

    During our visit to Scotland, we got to see Highland sheep, long hair and all.

  10. LK - farm equipment blocks the Lake District roads at times too. Once you're behind a tractor on one of the narrow roads, you can be behind it for ages!

  11. that would be so cool to actually see a sheep crossing the road. For us it's the squirrels. If they don't wind up as road kill.

  12. Loved learnnig about sheep this morning over my tea. :) This was so interesting and I just can't imagine waiting for the sheep to cross the road before I can proceed.

  13. Sandra - sometimes they're not just crossing the road, but being taken along it for quite a distance!

  14. Learning the counting system was fun. The sheep being in the middle of the road if I was trying to get somewhere, probably not so fun ;-) This was another great adventure into your world Paula, thank you!

  15. Great names for numbers, aren't they, November? Glad you;re enjoying my world!

  16. Cool counting system. I enjoyed hearing all about the sheep. :D


  17. Wow that would be quite the sight seeing so many sheep in one place. I don't think I've ever seen more than 10!

    Very nice S post :) I loved all of the photos!

    Anna@Herding Cats & Burning Soup

  18. Aww I love sheep! I don't see sheep very often (I live in a highly populated metro area in the US) so even seeing pictures of them makes me happy. :)

  19. I can't imagine seeing sheep wherever I go. Such a different place than where I come from. We never see them unless you go to the petting zoo.

    Catch My Words

  20. We do have sheep farms here, but they don't wander the hills! They are kept in their fenced in areas and seldom seen by anyone not visiting the farm to check them out.
    That's just a fascinating area, the Lake District.

  21. Herdwicks! I love Herdwicks - such lavish fleeces and their white faces look so smart in contrast. Out local jobs [Welsh Mountains] aren't nearly as smart.

  22. I've spent most of my life as a city-dweller, so the pic of sheep all over the road kind of cracks me up. Excuse for being late for work: "Sheep traffic jam." :O)

  23. Thanks, all - I'm glad you like all our Lakeland sheep! I'm so used to seeing them up there that I just take them for granted. And yes, I'm sure some people ARE late for work because of 'sheep on the road'!

  24. My family had a small flock while I was growing up. I can safely say that they might look cute, but I have no desire to ever own another.

  25. Love watching lambs play, but prefer to always stay upwind of the sheep. I grew up in an area that had them (not nearly so many or that type) and was downwind of them a phew! times.