The purpose of Herdwick red
The red colour marks the rams out of the ewes and makes it easier to spot a Herdwick from the bottom of the fell. The dye makes the Herdwick fleeces look grand in shows and auctions. It highlights the contrast with the white of the head and legs which is in important characteristic in a good ram. Originally the red dye was made from iron ore or graphite mixed with grease. Now chemical dyes are available.
Left: Gavin Bland preparing a tup for the Keswick Show and Sale. Right: tup bred by Grove farm.
Two continental ewes bred by Westerplas Flock. The tipping point often seems to be the armpit. Once this turns black the Herdwick loses contrast. A clear distinction between the white of the head and legs and the dark bluish grey coat is an essential characteristic of a true-type Herdwick.
Left: James Rebanks showing a cracking tup. The contrast between legs, head, neck and the body colour is magnificent. This animal proves that a combination of a dark coat with a hoar frosted white head and legs is possible. Right: Joe Weir from Chapel farm, Borrowdale with a show tup in Herdwick red.
Left: The breed standards which goes back to 1921. Right: A male and a female with comments on the essential characteristics by Herdwick breeder James Rebanks from Racy Ghyll farm, Matterdale.
A true-type Herdwick
Examples of the breed standards are never complete. With the pictures we highlight some aspects that we learn from farmers in the Lake District. There is no such a thing as a perfect Herdwick. With the words of our mentor Mayson Weir: ‘They all have their problems’.The challenge of breeding is the constant pursuit of these unattainable perfection.