It’s that time of year again. Our friends and neighbours are back and forth, moving flocks, carrying fodder or dealing with premature births, rotten lambs etc. The grandchildren from Bastle farm are helping Mam, following up on the quad, to move a flock of in-lamb Texel ewes back in-bye. This is ‘on the job’ training for the two little girls, sticks in hand, aged six and four. As it has been for generations before them and hopefully for generations still to come. Southridge, the larger of our two immediate neighbours, has higher stocking rates and with their fields sorted are all ready to lamb. It will be a real stretch for the family this year as normally in-laws come to help out but the corona virus restrictions have put paid to that. As usual our modest four acres have been factored in to their allotment plan and we’re delighted to host a flock of Swaledale sheep this time around instead of the crossbreeds most often quartered here.
Swaledale is a traditional breed of Pennine hill sheep, originating in and around the valley of the River Swale. A Swaledale ram’s head is the logo of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority; black face, white nozzle, curly horns. The Swaledale Sheep Breeders Association (SSBA) held its first meeting in 1920 at England’s highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn, situated in glorious isolation on the remote Cumbria/Durham border. The SSBA would be proudly celebrating their centenary this June, except of course, they cannot given current restrictions. A cousin to Rough Fell and Scottish Blackface, these handsome beasts have evolved to be perfectly attuned to hill country life all year round and are highly prized for their hardiness and strong maternal qualities.
The score of Swaledales are contentedly raking our stretch of rough grazing and disposing of all weeds deposited there from the garden. Tails undocked, they are all hoggs (last years lambs not yet put to ram). Southridge will cross those they keep on with their resident Texel tups (rams), blending hardiness with weight to get best market prices for the resultant lambs. Elsewhere Swales are often crossed with Blue Faced Leicester and the popular North of England Mule is the result. (Lancaster is one of the main marts for Mules). I love the unintentional poetry that breeders often apply to product. The SSBA is no exception in fondly highlighting the qualities of their animals’ wool thus: ‘A thick deep bed and a curly top…a good bind that fills the hand well’. Others elsewhere are a little less generous, terming the fleece ‘off white’ and ‘rough’. Swaledale wool today is mainly used for insulation & carpet production.