Our Seasons

JAN / FEB / MARCH

Shepherd will check on ewes on the hill to ensure that they are surviving through the long winter, if things are very desperate then he may provide them with hay or a cereal based food. Generally these sheep are very tough and will choose to stay out on the high hill and forage under the snow rather than be fed.

APRIL / MAY

Lambing time on the hill - ewes will go to their own bit of ground to lamb. Shepherd will walk the hill and check sheep but will take a minimum intervention approach so as not to upset the sheep and break the bond between lamb and ewe. Lowground sheep are very different to hill types and often need a lot of intervention from the farmer - feeding the lambs, taking them in for shelter etc. hill sheep are not very prolific and generally only produce one lamb.

JUNE / JULY

Clipping of sheep, sheep are gathered by teams of people with sheepdogs and brought down to the fank and a shed where another team of people will clip the sheep (shearing). This is often done by contractors who travel around the country from place to place - usually a good fun time. Sheep have traditionally been dipped at this time to protect them from flies (bluebottles) and other pests before being returned to the hill.

AUGUST / SEPT / OCT

Generally a time for lamb sales, a social time for farmers. As the summer grass growth finishes, it is important to get the lambs off the hill so that there is enough food on it to carry the remaining ewes through the winter. These lambs are not ready for slaughter but will be bought by other farmers to fatten on areas of the country which has low ground grass, turnips, kale, rape etc that can fatten the lambs though the winter. Replacement ewe lambs are sent away at this time to a lowground farm with grass to then be brought back in the spring - March - to replace the old ewes which are usually sold in October / November.

NOVEMBER

Tups go out with ewes to mate. Good weather at this time can ensure a good number of lambs conceived.

 

Glossary of terms we use

DIET

Blackface sheep will live off all the varied grasses that are on the hill and heathers, mosses etc - adds to their flavour - not eating a monoculture grass like lowland sheep, they therefore never get over fat and are a healthy meat.

GATHER

This is term for rounding up sheep on the hill.

HERSEL

A distinct flock of sheep whose home range is a particular hill.

HEFT / HEFTED

Blackface (blackies) ewes have their own range which they treat as their own and keep others out of. These sheep will go back to the same area of the hill every time they return. They will pass this down to their lambs teaching them their own range.

SHEEPDOGS

Hill shepherd will often go to the hill with a collection of 4-5 dogs, these have been bred over the years for their natural ability to gather sheep. Man and dog must understand each other and commands are mainly by whistle and can often be made over mile away. Some dogs are more suited to going a long way out and using their strong eye to shift sheep by staring at them. Making the sheep back down through out staring it. Others are more suited to driving sheep along through hassling and speaking up - barking, and often used at close quarters to move sheep through the fank. Border collies are the former type and huntaways are an example of the latter.

FANK

Name for a handling facility with gates and pens, traditionally a drystone dyke feature.

CLIPPING

Scots term for shearing. A sheep's annual haircut. Sheep would naturally lose (caste) their fleece every year if it was not clipped.

WILD

These sheep are closer to deer in many ways than lowground sheep - red deer also heft. Ewes also hiss and bark at intruders to their hefted area and have cunning ploys and routes to avoid being gathered from it.

ENVIRONMENT

Hill sheep grazing at the appropriate level and right stocking density will generate more wildlife benefits than areas with no sheep or areas with too much sheep. It's a balance. A number of species benefit from this type of farming for example Golden Eagles, Choughs, Corncrakes, butterflies and moths (Marsh Fritillary, Transparent Burnet Moth and the Narrow bordered Bee Hawk moth) and includes Black Grouse leks.

ARGYLL HILL LAMB

Farmers who are keeping their lambs on a bit longer and renting better grass to take the lambs to a slaughter stage and hopefully generate a better return than selling in the autumn and secure a more stable future.

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