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Herdwick Sheep at Columba’s Barn.

March 27, 2017 / Greg Valerio

Category: Blog, Columba's Barn, Organic Farming

Society of St. Columba.

Introducing Herdwick Sheep.

Sheep farmers have been inordinately proud of their tough local sheep. In 1878 William Abbot wrote in The Shepherds’ Guide, There is not a breed anywhere in the world capable of taking the place of the Herdwick Sheep, a beautiful animal, stands against rain, hail and snow, braves the strongest blasts that sweep over the northern hills. The hardy Herdwick always to the fore, ready to climb to the summits of the loftiest mountains and proudly look down on less exalted, less beautiful fellow creatures.

Few things can be more quintessentially British than a flock of sheep with lambs a leaping in a rolling field of Downland green. This image of the rural idyll is an ancient memory burned into the psyche of these islands. We all know spring has sprung when the lambs are in the fields. For the Society of St. Columba this is the spiritual and natural beauty we want to be immersed in. The world is an intensely beautiful place and we all long to be participants and perpetrators of life enhancing beauty. When Jesus spoke of being the good shepherd, He was speaking directly to an intimate relationship between humans and their flock that will have evoked a powerful emotion in the rural, agrarian people of Palestine. In England, circa 2017, are we that much different?

Therefore The Society of St. Columba, starting in 2017, will be establishing a flock of Herdwick sheep on the South Downs.

Herdwick Sheep, a new born lamb

Herdwick Sheep, a new born lamb

About Herdwick Sheep.

The word “Herdwyck”, meaning sheep pasture, is recorded in documents going back to the 12th century. Herdwick sheep are the most hardy of all Britain’s breeds of hill sheep. Herdwick sheep are the native breed of the central and western Lake District and live on the highest of England’s mountains. They are extremely hardy and are managed in the traditional way on the Lake District fells that have been their home for generations. The lambs graze with their mothers on the “heaf”, instilling a life long knowledge of where on the fells they should be grazing. The Herdwick’s hardiness and ability to graze over a wide area of fell is key to the maintenance of the Lake District stunning landscape, as we know it.

When did the Herdwick sheep first graze the landscape of Britain? One story suggests they came with the Spanish Armada. They are thought to be descendants of sheep that escaped from a shipwreck off Ravenglass in the 16th century. More probable is that they came with the Norsemen. The breed bears distinct resemblances to breeds found in Iceland, the Faroe Islands and in Norway itself. For Hugh Southgate, who has cooked for the Queen, the most convincing evidence is taste. The meat of the Old Norwegian is very similar to Herdwick. There is very little fat and the taste is more deer than mutton. But the people who should know, the farmers themselves, talk about the Herdwick being indigenous, having developed from a primitive Iron Age breed. Certainly, excavations at Vindolanda on the Roman Wall have thrown up textiles made from the characteristic hairy wool. The name itself is Norwegian. The areas of forest cleared for farming were called ‘herdwykes’ and by the 18th century the name had been transferred to the sheep.

Establishing our Flock of Herdwick’s.

Over the next three months we are securing 40 acres of prime grazing on which our sturdy Herdwick’s can thrive. We have two sites on which we will be establishing our flock.

The first location is the Great Barn Farm at Chanctonbury. This location is to become our spiritual home, and where we will be discovering the agrarian rhythms of the British Monastic Church. Discovering these rhythms of prayer and participation will include our livestock. For us creation and its creatures are an integral part of our spiritual life. Equally important, is the land is a Soil Association organic certified site, the benefits of which are enormous to the welfare of our sheep. No pesticides, chemicals or intensive farming practices, will ensure the highest quality of well-being for our sheep. Our small flock will also help us to to improve the biodiversity on the farm. Their grazing will help to form the wild flower meadow we have in our farm plan, remove the unwanted overgrown scrub, the Herdwick are excellent browsers as well as pasture grazers and can deal with coarse grasses, saplings and scrub (including brambles, nettles and thistles). They will also graze the grass beneath the two-acre orchard we shall be planting later this year. This is important to us as our farming approach will be a very natural, slow, organic orientated approach, so the Herdwick’s will work with us to clear and maintain the overall look and ascetic of the farm.

The other grazing location will be the Meadow Blue Community Benefit Solar Farm, close to the tiny village of Merston, near Chichester. This 25-acre site is a great blessing as it is a good example of two community groups working together to mutual advantage. We can increase the size of our flock and Meadow Blue get permanent lawnmowers and a grazing rights fee.

Elizabeth our shepherdess busy feeding her Herdwick's deep in the cold of winter.

Elizabeth our shepherdess busy feeding her Herdwick’s deep in the cold of winter.

The Invitation – Become a shareholder in our flock.

The ancient, native British Herdwick sheep is a breed long associated with heritage, conservation and meat of superior quality. As guardians of the fells, spanning many hefted generations, Herdwick flocks have nurtured and carved the land beneath them, regenerating a whole myriad of diverse flora and fauna. Their adaptability, beauty and good nature marks them as a natural choice for Columba’s Barn Community Benefit Society. A true example of British sustainability and wild resilience for our varied landscape and community. Elizabeth Kneafsey-Richards, Shepherdess.

Therefore we are inviting anyone who is interested in learning about organic sheep farming with us, to invest into our flock of heritage Herdwicks. Each breeding ewe will cost £100 ($120) and in exchange for buying one of our sheep we will issue you with £100 shares in The Columba’s Barn Community Benefit Society. As a member of Columba’s Barn Community Benefit Society, you will receive a 10% discount on all food products we produce, as the farming side of our work comes to market. Also we will be holding annual lambing days, and educational training days with Elizabeth Kneafsey-Richards our shepherdess, that as members you will receive prior notification of.

Our target is to raise £3000 to establish an initial flock of 30 breeding ewes.

Applying for Shares.

Columba’s Barn Community Benefit Society was established by The Society of St. Columba in 2016 to model best practice in animal husbandry, organic farming and gardening, visitor and members hospitality and farm to table food service. Developing a thriving flock of heritage Herdwick Sheep is a very important part of bringing that plan to life. To apply for shares in Columba’s Barn CBS and invest into our work with sheep, please download the COLUMBA’S BARN COMMUNITY BENEFIT SOCIETY PROSPECTUS HERE, fill out the inside back cover, stating how many shares you wish to purchase and post back to our administration office. Please indicate on the share form how many sheep you wish to contribute to the flock. Each sheep will cost £100 ($120) to purchase on behalf of Columba’s Barn. If you have any queries please email: info@st-columba.com referencing Herdwick Sheep.

A note on Herdwick Meat.

The Herdwick ‘has a distinct eating quality that contrasts with most other commercially reared lamb. Slow grown, it produces darker, juicier, firmer-textured meat.  It’s marketed as lamb at about eight months old, as hogget when over a year and as mutton at two years old. In all three instances the flavour is closer to the mutton that was dear to our forebears’. Marcus Wareing. 2 star Michelin Chef.

Columba’s Barn will supply the Herdwick meat in the form of half, or full carcass, or in convenient cuts, bagged and ready to cook or home freeze. The animal is taken to a local abattoir. The meat is hung for a week in the traditional way in order to tenderise and enhance the flavour. The lamb is then professionally butchered into convenient cuts and bagged so that all the meat is ready to cook or home freeze.

Conclusion.

We hope that in this short introduction you will have read enough to whet your appetite for helping us to establish the heritage Herdwick flock. The Celtic Church is so much more than history, archeology and spiritual contemplation, it is the embodiment of wholistic living, and represents a way of being the community of the Kingdom in the land in which we live. We trust you will join us at the beginning of our adventure as The Society of St. Columba.

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