Bloodtest:Hefted flocks

Vaccinate Hefted Flocks

E-mails about the unique hefted flocks - that are irreplaceable


I thought it might interest some of you to have more information on hefted flocks and why it is so important that these flocks should not be lost as replacement could be extremely difficult even if possible.

Hefted flocks will graze during the day within a self imposed restricted area (which can be extremely large), usually in family groups. Each group will return to their own selected camping ground for the night, as sheep do not move around in the dark unlike many herbivores.

There is a strong maternal hierachy, and ewes will return every year to the spot where they were themselves born in order to give birth. Rams, out of the breeding season, will form all male clubs. Although they disassociate themselves from the womenfolk they obviously don't object to playing with the kids from time to time! I have seen rams surrounded by young lambs, who were allowed to jump all over them!

It is these characteristics in mountain breeds that permit farmers to shepherd them. Hill farmers know exactly where their flock is likely to be at any given time. The loss of such flocks spells disaster for the hill farmer as you can imagine.

Now for the stategy! It is widely recognised that a reduction in the number of mountain sheep is desirable, but instead of wiping out whole flocks, would it not be an idea to cull selectively - notably those that have tested positive to antibodies as this appears to be the fashion even if ridiculous - and VACCINATE a nucleus of breeding ewes from EACH INDIVIDUAL FLOCK in order to ensure the survival of every flock? Yes, this would involve more extensive blood testing and

I would actually do it the other way round - a nucleus flock of ewes with antibodies, which had presumably developed an immunity to FMD, could be a very viable prospect for the future. I would have thought it perfectly possible to keep these flocks away from the holdings or at least away from cattle, by the strategic use of electric fencing An idea such as this might keep the farmers happy as they would get compensation as well as keeping some of their ewes, and also keep the government, so keen to slaughter, happy with a compromise.

Has anyone else any ideas on avoiding the potential disaster of a clearance policy of the Welsh hills? Or Cumbria? or Yorkshire ? T.

An addition

...the most 'magic' flock of hefted Herdwicks was culled in the Central Lakes, Hazel Head Farm, 2000 of them


Hi Tessa, your description of hefted flocks is wonderful and if they were lost, a great deal of magic would go with it. Sadly, one of the most 'magic' flock of hefted Herdwick was culled in the Central Lakes, Hazel Head Farm, 2000 of them, and they did not have it I was told. I used to take people to see them as late afternoon, or dusk they came, hundreds of them, on little sheep tracks from all Birker Moor, over the fells, to one cattle grid to spend the night, lying on the road, or just beside it. I'm sure there was nothing at that spot that was special to bring them there, just a compulsion bred through generations. We've got so few left and it is such a tragedy. There is a little hope as about a couple of dozen crafty ones escaped and hid themselves in the snow when the rest was culled. Although they planned to kill them, they have now been tested and found to be negative. Hopefully there are enough of them to teach the young ones and if not, I suppose their magical evening gathering will just be a memory for us. J.


While I hugely sympathise with what's happening in Cumbria, I am tragically sorry to say that we have lost not some but ALL of our hefted sheep in our particular area, no economic argument at all, they were all condemned, when infection was found in a few, in the Forest of Dean, West Goucestershire,What we are trying to do here, is learn from the holocaust in April, to help our adjoining areas, and the Brecons and Black Mountains is closest. Well done Nick on your efforts and meeting, Perhaps JD doesnt know, of the MOD camp at Crickhowell and the cull that went on, without any media attention, of the hefted sheep off the Sugarloaf Mountain, about 3,500, last week, let alone others taking place secretly, F.