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Keeping Hebridean Sheep
Using Hebridean sheep sheep to look after a wildflower meadow
It was four years ago. We got in touch with people from the west Kent high wield project, in order to get advice about managing and conserving a meadow we had purchased. At that time we were clearing the brush using hand tools and con east of conservation tools.
In the southeast of England there is very little unimproved meadowland left, and the meadows that remain are increasingly endangered. And yet, like many small islands cut off from the continent, there is a wide range of unique biodiversity.
Managing wildflower meadows is hard. You need to cut them regularly, and slowly reduce the quality of the soil. If you don't do so, the grass will out compete any wild flowers. At the same time you need to encourage animals by increasing the different types of grassland on offer.
Different lengths of grass offer opportunities to different flowers, and insects. So you don't want to cut all your grass according to the same schedule. You need to cut different buts at different times.
In addition, you don't want a wildlife meadow to be too tidy.
Getting rid of all the bramble, scrub, and copses of trees is an obvious thing to do. But things like piles of deadwood, and bramble, and untidy patches are essential if you want to encourage wildlife.
Why we got the Hebridean Sheep
One of the best ways to encourage grass land in the UK is to own sheep. These hardy grazers can eat the grass down, and produce valuable wool and meat. And, once you taste free range mutton, you will know that it is really delicious.
Unlike most other solutions it is highly environmentally friendly.
In addition, cutting grass is a lot of hard work. I have done it by hand using a scythe, and also by using a tractor, but when you are talking about acres, you realize why it is called an acre.
Cos you ache after you cut it.
When we first started, there was a project in Kent that provided sheep to people who had land - the Kent grassland project. While that is defunct, it got us used to keeping sheep. In addition, we took courses in how to care for them.
No web site could go into all the necessary details.
Danger of keeping sheep
Sheep can be more dangerous than you think. While they are often friendly, a ram like the one pictured above, can be very strong and will head butt you if it gets angry. Knowing what you are doing is very important.
Even breeds like Hebridean sheep which are small, pack quite a wallop.
We often have to shoe people off our land who just think walking around a rams field is a sensible idea. Whatever you see in Britain's Funniest Animals... it is NOT.
Upside of keeping sheep
Once they get to know you sheep are very funny animals. They will often walk around the field with you. They are more organized than you think, with different characters and temperaments. And, they are very tasty to eat too.
If you have a reasonable amount of land, keeping hebridean sheep is quite a nice way to get some value out of it.
Keeping hebridean sheep
If you want to keep hebridean sheep you must be aware of the following:
- There are substantial requirements about paperwork, movement orders, and record keeping that are enforced by criminal law. Other countries have other requirements, but laws on shepherds are substantial in most jurisdictions.
- Keeping sheep requires a lot of knowledge, and at first you will need not just to have attended training courses but to have an experienced shepherd on call
- They are not pets, and shouldn't be treated as such.
By the last comment I mean... with sheep, you have to be willing to eat them or sell them on at the end of their useful life. And, to be blunt, they reproduce so quickly unless you are willing to accept you will kill them eventually to eat, you should not buy them.
You should also keep more than one sheep, because they are pack animals.
Sheep require regular maintenance, including cutting their 'toenails', worming, sheering, and pregnancy as well as sometimes extraordinary medical care... I have done everything from dealing with fly-strike, helping out with pregnancy, castration and so on.
They are not pets like dogs, and will require substantial experience and knowledge.
Would I start again?
I love my sheep, and get a lot out of having them. But, there is a lot of work involved in them, and they aren't a commercial proposition... they certainly cost more money than they raise.
It is not easy.
But, they are really funny animals, are loyal, and are almost like big dogs. It is funny when they follow you around the field. You will love them, I am sure. Make sure you know what you are getting into before you take them on, though.