The shepherd's year
The Hawkshaw flock was established by purchasing sheep from various rare breed markets across Scotland and North of England. By buying breeding females, I’ve continued to grow my flock of attractive, quality livestock. I have been registering sheep under the Hawkshaw name since 2013.
It is these sheep that produce the fabulous fleeces that create the Hawkshaw Sheep yarns and fleece products.
Scottish Borders hill farm
The Hawkshaw flock live on a farm called Fingland, located in the stunning Tweed Valley within The Scottish Borders. The farm is based close the source of the river Tweed – upon 1,500 acres of high land. The farmhouse stands at 1,000ft above sea level, with the land rising to as high as 1800 ft. All of the land we farm is hill land, we do not have any land suitable for making hay or silage crops. For this reason the sheep in my flock have to be hardy, healthy and thrifty, being able to survive on what the hill land can provide for them.
Living in such a harsh environment means that they have to grow thick dense fleeces to keep them warm and cosy through the winter months.
Throughout most of the year, the sheep are free to roam on the open hills.
They are gathered approximately 4 times a year.
The start of the shepherd’s year
The first gathering occurs in November. This is considered to be the beginning of the shepherd’s year. When the sheep are rounded up, they are provided with some medicinal treatments to keep them healthy and happy. This includes vitamins, and mineral supplements. After, the ewe lambs that have been running with their mothers are taken away. The mothers are then split into breeding groups, ready for the tups (rams) to be introduced. After the first gathering, the flock stays close to home, I gather them together everyday during this time, this is to ensure that the tups are mating with the ewes. Their stay lasts for just over 4 weeks, after which I remove the tups and release the ewes back onto the open hills.
The sheep are next gathered in mid-to-late March. At this time, they are provided with a vaccination to protect them and their unborn lambs from clostridia, a bacterium that can be fatal to sheep. The sheep also have their routine doses of wormer, vitamins, and minerals. After this, the sheep are turned out into what are known as the hill parks.
These are large, fenced-in areas of highland measuring roughly 200 acres each. When the sheep are within a couple of weeks from the first due date, they are brought in from the hill parks. Their udders are checked and those sheep which are closest to lambing are brought into the fields closer to the farm. The rest are released back into the hill parks. As the sheep in the fields lamb, the lambs are ear-tagged and then castrated if they are male lambs, finally their parentage is logged. Following this, they are released to the hill parks and more sheep close to lambing are brought into the fields. This process continues until all lambing is finished – usually in the middle or end of May, after which they are returned to the hill.
The next gathering is for clipping, which may take place any time between the end of June and the middle of July – depending on the weather. Clipping or shearing the sheep is an essential task that needs to be done once a year for the welfare of the sheep. It in no way harms the sheep and the team we use to do the shearing are very skilled at what they do. Unclipped sheep are at risk of overheating should the weather become hot, but worse than that, they become very susceptible to fly strike, this happens when blowflies lay their eggs in the fleece, once the eggs hatch the maggots then start to feed on the flesh of the sheep and if not treated swiftly, the sheep will die.
At this point, the lambs receive their first dose of wormer. Once the ewes have been clipped, they stay in the hill parks for a couple of weeks while they grow a covering of fleece. Then, every sheep receives a pour-on treatment to protect them from blowflies and ticks. At this stage, any unusable bits of fleece are taken away. The remaining fleece is rolled up and placed into wool bags, ready to be sorted thoroughly at a later date. Again, the ewes and lambs are released back onto the open hills.
Sorting the flock
The last routine gather is at the end of August, this is the time we separate the lambs from their mothers. First we sort through the ewes, and take out the oldest ewes, ours will be 6 years old, these ewes will be sold to someone that has lowland ground, as although our sheep are extremely hardy, the older girls deserve to live out their latter years somewhere that isn’t as harsh, they will still be capable of producing lambs for another 4 or 5 years. Next we sort out the lambs into male and female groups.
The female lambs will be registered with the relevant breed society, but there may be some that do not meet the breed standards so these will be put in with the male sheep and turned out into a hill park, to be sold at a later date.
The female lambs that we are retaining for breeding, have the tag numbers recorded, so we can fill in the registration papers for their pedigree certificates. They are then turned back out onto the hill with their Mothers until November, when the shepherds year begins again.