At the Hirsel, we keep a mix of ‘modern’ HSS (Hebridean Sheep Society) registered Hebrideans, unregistered ‘ancient’ Hebs, and cross-bred Hebs (modern and ancient). Hebrideans are a short-tailed, hardy breed, with a high lanolin content in their wool. They are perfectly suited for the vagaries of northern Scotland’s weather, and for a mixed-terrain Highland farm like the Hirsel.
In the modern strain, Hebrideans are bred for specific traits, including color and physical conformity. You can read more about the breed and HSS standards on their website. The ‘ancient’ strain has a mix of colors – we have an active breeding line of white females, and many others have grey or reddish wool, harking back to a time when the breed was multi-colored. We love the various colors of our flock – it matches the various personalities of our sheep! We’ve also found that, at least at the Hirsel, our ancient sheep tend to be larger and more robust – but that might just be due to the size of our tups! We’ve found that crossing a modern with an ancient gives us large, healthy, good looking sheep, so we are experimenting with that, and this is the group makes up the cross-bred portion of our flock.
ALL of our sheep have the Hirsel pedigree: if you purchase a sheep from us, we’ll be able to tell you his/her Dam and Sire – in many cases, you’ll be able to meet the parents – as well as receive background medical history and, in many cases, information about personality, too.
Our sheep are handled often, receiving regular foot care and other vet-recommended treatments (never more than absolutely necessary, as we prefer a light-handed approach to meds), as well as regular visits by us, to wherever they’re grazing on the Hirsel. So, while Hebrideans are known for being wild, most of ours – there are a couple of headstrong mamas! – are very manageable. We don’t use dogs for herding, but have ‘bucket trained’ our flock, meaning they come to the shake of a feed bucket, or a simple call, which makes for stress free herding most of the time. Many of them come to the hand for treats, and some like a bit of grooming. They graze our fields and meadows in the green months – important colleagues in our regenerative approach to the renovation of our meadows and woods – and are given supplemental feeding of quality feed and hay/lage when winter grazing is scarce. And we treat all of our animals with as much kindness and affection as is practically possible on a farm. Our theory is that market day will be hard for everyone, whether we’re attached or not – but loving them up a little makes life a lot more pleasant and fun for the two-legged, as well as the four-legged, residents of the Hirsel in the meantime.
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