The Great Yorkshire Dales
In July 2019, I participated in an animal photography workshop in the Yorkshire Dales (in England). The workshop was conducted by Edwin Remsberg, who does photography for our college. We stayed at the Maryland Study Centre at Kiplin Hall. Kiplin Hall is the ancestral home of the Calverts, Maryland’s founding family.
During my stay, I honed my photography skills (I hope) and got a little glimpse into the British sheep industry. There were sheep grazing at Kiplin Hall. We visited a sale barn. We spent a day at the Great Yorkshire Show. When we stopped at various roadside vistas, we saw lots of sheep. Sheep were everywhere. As a sheep specialist and sheep producer; I was in “heaven!”
It was the regular auction day at Hawes Auction Mart. Lambs and cast (cull) ewes and rams were being sold. It all looked very similar to a US auction. Lambs were weighed, but sold by the head. Sheep were sold by the head. Unlike the US, all sheep in the UK are electronically tagged (it is the law). As the animals left the sale ring, they passed through a gate which read their tags.
In early to mid-July, it appeared that most of the sheep in North Yorkshire had not been sheared. I was told that shearing was half done. England has a different climate (cool, wet) than here. Spring shearing would expose the sheep to too much inclement weather. I mentioned hair sheep to one of the farmers and he had the same reaction as American farmers used to have, “no way,” despite wool being a cost of production as it is in the US (except for fine wool and our niche marketers).
The native sheep of the Yorkshire Dales is the Swaledale. The Swaledale is a hardy, hill breed with curled horns and a black “mask.” To get a more productive ewe, it is common to cross the Swaledale (ewe) with a Bluefaced Leicester (ram). The progeny are called “Mules.” There are several “Mule” crossings (hill x lowland) in the UK. These were the North of England Mules. For prime lamb production, Mules are then crossed with terminal sire breeds, usually the Texel.
In the UK, lambs are usually marketed at lighter weights (~90 lbs.), but they are meatier than their US counterparts. Lamb prices were good despite concerns over Brexit. It was common to see lamb on menus, one or two dishes. I also saw lamb (even lamb gravy) in the grocery stores. It’s all British lamb, no imports. In fact, the UK does a good (better) job promoting domestic product. Despite claims that lamb consumption is declining in the UK, lamb (and sheep) seemed to be commonplace in the English culture.
Sheep could be found grazing both the dales and moors. The dales are valleys. The moors are plateaus. In the dales, drystone fences serve as the boundaries for fields. The sheep are more densely stocked. Creep feeders are not an uncommon site. The Moors were not fenced. Forage quality is lesser. Sheep were scattered. A few, here and there. In fact, UK sheep seem to possess less of a flocking instinct than those in the US.
There are public foot paths throughout the countryside. In England (and Wales), the public has a legal right of way or “right to roam.” It doesn’t matter whether the land is public or private. People can even bring their dogs (properly leashed) onto a farmer's land, so long as they follow the paths. Nor did it seem like a right that was being abused. In fact, other than the occasional attack by domestic dogs, I don't think predators are a big problem with sheep in England. Guardian animals aren’t common, so someone traveling along a public foot path isn’t likely to encounter an angry Great Pyrenees.
Parasite issues are different in England than here because of the UK's cool, wet climate. Coccidiosis is similarly a problem, but the barber pole worm much less so. The most predominant worm parasite in sheep (in England) is Nematodirus battus (thread-necked roundworm). It affects the small intestines where it disrupts absorption and causes diarrhea. Other parasites that cause digestive upset and diarrhea are more common in the UK than many parts of the US, where the barber pole is more endemic.
The Great Yorkshire Show was a real treat. We spent a day there, but could have used more time. Despite its size, it is only a 3-day event. They advertised having 8,000 animals, 3,000 sheep. Pigs were absent because of a disease issue, but there was every other kind of animal. I saw sheep breeds I had heard of, but never seen. The supreme champion sheep of the show was a Dutch Spotted ewe. This is a very new breed to the UK and unbeknownst to me. Like other terminal sire breeds in England, it was stocky and round. It was obviously spotted and had a very light covering of wool. I was delighted to learn that the winning ewe had already raised a set of lambs.
A Texel was reserve champion. The Texel breed also claimed the top pair designation. There was Texel blood in the winning carcasses. Carcasses were on display in a refrigerated trailer. According to the show catalog, the biggest sheep show was Beltex (Belgium Texel). Texels had the second largest show. There was a tent with rare (native) breeds. Sheep exhibitors wear white coats, but show their own sheep. There were multiple show rings. There isn’t 4-H in England, but there was competition for young handlers. There was also a “people’s choice” category. Some of the exhibitors wore costumes. Some of the sheep, too.
The fleece show wasn’t nearly as large as the one at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. The fleeces were displayed behind wire in "coops." A Shetland fleece received top honors. The shearing competition drew a big crowd and featured competition for both machine and blade shearing. “The Sheep Show” was similar to New Zealand’s Agrodome Farm Show. The British version was more humorous and featured nine breeds of sheep, each with significance to the UK sheep industry: Norfolk Horn, Southdown, Suffolk, Swaledale, Scottish Blackface, Lincoln Longwool, Bluefaced Leicester, Texel, and Rouge de l'Ouest. Susie the Southdown was the only one that hadn't learned a "dance step" for the show. Click HERE to see the dancing sheep.
There is always much to learn when you visit farms in other places and chat with people who share a common interest. If you like sheep, the Yorkshire Dales should be on your “places to go” list.
You can view all of the pictures from my trip on Flickr?.
Created or last updated 08.04.19 by Susan Schoenian.