Herdwick is a traditional breed of hardy hill sheep native to Cumbria, the name originates from “Herdwyck”, meaning sheep pasture
Roaming freely on the Cumbrian hills at heights upwards of 1,000 feet, the sheep graze on wild grass and forage which gives the lamb a distinctive gamey flavour. They survive alone on the mountains all winter. They never stray from their ‘heaf’ – the area they were suckled as lambs.
Herdwick lamb has historic ties to the Lake District and is the symbol of the Fells, but there are only 13,000 remaining upland holdings in England and 20 per cent of these farmers are expected to retire or stop farming in the next five years. It is an internationally recognised chef’s favourite known for its well-developed taste and distinct flavour, due to its diet and its season runs from January through to mid-June.
Locally, Herdwick lamb is available from regional supermarket Booths, which works collaboratively with farmers to improve the viability and profitability of upland farming.
One such farmer is fifth generation Lakeland farmer Ian Knight. His farming team are a close and hardworking traditional family and everyone mucks in on the farm and support each other.
From Ian (the boss), who does everything and more to Alan (Dad – the old boss), who keeps an eye on the new boss, to Joe (the REAL boss – aged eight), who tells the old boss and the new boss where they are all going wrong!
Ian Knight says: “One of the worst things about farming is the uncertainty of the value of lamb. Working with Booths guarantees secure demand and a fair price for our Herdwick lamb. This enables farmers to plan ahead and invest in a sustainable future for their businesses.”
Booths is renowned for its commitment to seasonal produce and connections with rural industry, and as the only supermarket to stock Herdwick, it gives the hard-pressed hill farmers a premium for their stock.
You can recognise a Herdwick easily as they all have a white face and white legs and their coat changes colour from black as a baby lamb to blue-grey as they get older. The rams are easy to spot too – they have horns.
Herdwick wool is widely used in carpet making and also for knitwear. The fleece is also blended with Swaledale to make loft insulation.
Shepherds are said to count sheep by going up to 15 or 20 and then moving a small stone from one pocket to the other before beginning again, therefore keeping score.
Easter is fast approaching, so indulge in some of this Easter recipe, courtesy of Booths.