By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work
On Saturday night at the Small Shepherd’s Club AGM, Kirsten Houser and I were the proud recipients of the McLellan Lambing Trophy (pictured above with Etty and Sasha). The trophy is awarded to the flock with the highest lambing percentage. Although we came second in 2018, in 2019 we were finally victorious!
Here in Outdoor Work, we have a long tradition of keeping sheep. We mostly have Jacobs, a breed prized for their piebald fleece and magnificent curly horns. Not only do they have a distinctive look, they are easy to handle and produce delicious meat. Because of the variation in their fleece, the wool is highly sought after by knitters and weavers.
We also have three smiley-faced South Down ewes. This is a local breed that has grazed the South Downs for centuries and is historically one of the most important British sheep breeds. Keeping them company are two Herdwicks, a breed native to the Lake District. We mostly keep them just because they look so awesome!
We shear our sheep on site. The fleeces are sorted and packed into colours by our students, then sent away to the Natural Fibre Company, which washes and spins the wool into yarn. In 2018 we produced 195kgs, which eventually, after being sent to Melin Teifi, a traditional weavers in Wales, was turned into blankets and scarves which were sold in our Outdoor Work shop.
We also use our wool to teach students how to weave, knit and felt. In fact, thanks to brilliant teachers like Marcella Craven, our weaving room in the Sotherington Barn has never been busier!
We don’t just use the sheep for their products. They also provide a fantastic way to introduce our students to animal husbandry. All students who take Outdoor Work will get hands-on experience with them. Some students, like Block 5 girls Etty, Sasha, Lila and Gala, have taken on all aspects of sheep care including feeding, worming, injecting, fecal egg counting, halter training, shearing and feet trimming. Last September they did brilliantly at showing too, at the Alresford Show. All this counts towards their Bedales Assessed Course (BAC) project.
As you can probably tell, we are incredibly enthusiastic about our woolly friends, and are keen to spread the word about small scale sheep herding. When the environmental dangers of intensive, large scale food production are becoming increasingly worrying, more and more people want to do what they can. If you’re thinking of starting your own flock, even if it’s only one or two sheep, the Small Shepherd’s Club is a fantastic place to go to for support. They run events and talks throughout the year, or are simply there to offer advice, should you need it.