Sheep Farming - month by month

Sheep farming remains a dominant feature of the valley. Today there are over 5,000 sheep, many more after lambing time. Hardy breeds include Swaledale, Rough Fell and Dalesbred. Smaller flocks of Teeswater, Texel, Suffolk, North Country Cheviot and Blue Faced Leicester provide tups (rams) in order to produce a cross-bred lamb for meat.

A Hill Sheep Farmer's Year

Hill sheep farming is a tough and busy life, every day, all day - and some nights! This is a simplified account of one farmer's schedule:-

farmer and sheepdog on quad bike derelict barn winter on the fells

November: Tups are put in with the ewes. Each tup is marked with coloured raddle on its chest which will transfer to the ewe it services. Changing the colour at weekly intervals will allow the farmer to know when lambs are due, as well as identifying the tup.
December: Fat lambs continue to be sold off for meat. Sheep are dosed for flukes.
January: Pregnant sheep will need the hay harvested last summer, especially when the land is covered with snow. Up on the fells there are a few small barns (hoghouses) now derelict, which were used for storing winter feed before quad bikes made it easier to deliver hay in all weathers.

ultrasound scanning for lambs - outdoors! marking sheep taking sheep to the fells

February: The pregnant ewes are scanned with ultrasound - outdoors! Colour marked on the ewes indicate if twins or triplets are expected, and these sheep will get increased supplements.
March: Sheep are moved around all through the year to make best use of the land available, getting the best grazing for the sheep whilst maintaining the fields. Most flocks will graze both pasture and fell. Many farms have scattered fields and will use road and tracks to move their sheep.
April: Lambing time, day and night. Some farmers lamb outside, others in barns. Several times a day the farmers drive round their fields mothering the ewes off with their lambs. The shepherds' crook is still an invaluable tool.

some new lambs need special care swaledale sheep and lamb with smit mark M lambs feeding on last year's hay

May: Lambs go to the fells with the ewes so that the journey and the land becomes familiar to them. Emptying the low fields allows the grass to grow. The sheep will be brought back after haymaking.
June: Time for a very short break? But there is always maintenance to be done, mending walls and fences. And paperwork.
July: Haymaking and clipping. Make hay whilst the sun shines, often well into the night. And when it rains there is the clipping to be done, but who wants to clip wet sheep? Every sheep carries a smit mark, its colour, style and position indicating which flock it belongs to, and it has to be reapplied after clipping. Shepherds Guides containing this information have been published since 1817, and stray sheep used to be returned to their owners once or twice a year at the Shepherds' Meet or Gathering.

haymaking clipping at High Swinklebank rebuilding dry stone walls

August: Lambs are weaned this month. The pure-bred gimmer lambs come off the fells.
September: The time for local and county Shows, focussed on the Shepherds Meet, where sheep are judged and rosettes awarded. Cross-bred female lambs are sold on at auction, to be cross-bred again with less hardy downland sheep.
October: Tup sales, selling and buying from specialist flocks, and replacing stock to avoid inbreeding. Pure bred ewe lambs are sent away to lower pastures for the winter. They will not breed until the following year. Fat lambs (male) are sold for meat.

showing Teeswater sheep 2004, Murthwaite flock
showing Teeswater sheep 2004,
Murthwaite flock
Shepherds Guide 1817 showing smit mark, Thomshow flock
Shepherds Guide 1817, showing
smit mark for 'Thomshow' flock
Rough Fell sheep 2007, Toms Howe flock
Rough Fell sheep 2007
Toms Howe flock

Rough Fell sheep are a local breed. There are over 1,000 in Longsleddale, a significant proportion of the total in the country. For more information on Rough Fell Sheep, contact Richard Simpson on 01539 823682

There is a registered flock of Teeswaters in Longsleddale. For more information on Teeswater Sheep, contact David Waine on 01539 823199

Entries for Longsleddale in the Shepherd's Guides can be seen under Local Records on this website.

More general information and pictures about Smit marks, Stone walls, Sheep feeders can be found online under Topics in Guides to the Lakes

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