Hilary Barber is an artist living and working in the heart of the Pennines near Haworth in West Yorkshire. She is a trained graphic designer and landscape architect but for over ten years she has kept chickens, horses and rare breed sheep. She works in mixed media – mostly pastels, acrylics and coloured pencil. The sheep pictures are largely created using coloured pencil and are of her own flock of Greyface Dartmoors, an old breed renowned for its long, heavy and lustrous fleece.
“The commercially bred sheep is a commodity, but any shepherd will tell you that certain individuals stand out either physically, in character or even for being markedly less intelligent than other members of the flock. Keeping a small number of rare breed sheep you learn that each individual does have its own character and even nobility under all that wool, this is what I have tried to capture.”
We bought our first three Greyface Dartmoor ewes from the Rare breed Sales in Skipton in 2003. Initially we were just looking to keep a few rare breed sheep but our love for them grew and we soon ventured into raising our own flock and experiencing a new world of sheep husbandry.
Our own flock was called ‘Stones’ flock as we are located in an area of the village referred to as Stones. Each Greyface Dartmoor flock has a flock name and the development and preservation of the breed is controlled by the Greyface Dartmoor Breeders Association. The Association was established in 1909 to standardise, promote and develop the breed, which was well established in three areas, South Hams, Chagford and Tavistock. Our own flock became a closed flock in 2008 (most ‘closed flocks’ only buy in breeding tups (rams) and breed all their own female replacements) this afforded us a higher level of biosecurity.
11 years later we still enjoy keeping Greyface Dartmoor sheep and I wanted to commemorate the past 10 years in a series of special ‘sheep’ portraits – picking out a few characters to hopefully help share our sheepie experiences.
A little breed background . . .
The Greyface Dartmoor is also known as the Dartmoor or “Improved” Dartmoor. Attractive, quiet and easily handled the Dartmoor have their enthusiasts throughout the country and provide a natural focal point whenever they appear.
Descended from the local breeds, which grazed the low ground in and around Dartmoor, they have an immensely strong constitution. Improvements were carried out during the 19 century using the local Longwools (Notts) and the Leicester. Today flocks are kept throughout England, Wales and south of Scotland with some breeding stock being exported.
A good sized sheep (approx. 60kg), hornless, deep bodied, short legged, with well woolled head and legs. The white face should be mottled or spotted with black or grey with matching feet. The short straight legs are well covered with wool.
The Dartmoor fleece is classified as Lustre Long wool. A clip of 7-9kg can be expected with a higher yield (up to 15kg) from mature rams. Traditionally the long, curly, lustre wool was used for blankets, serge, carpets and cloth. The wool is not coloured. Staple length 25-30cms with a Bradford count of 36-40.
The ewes are good milkers, capable of rearing twins. A lambing of about 140% can be expected with the heavy milking docile ewes rearing them quickly. Traditionally lambs are shorn before the first of July.
The life expectancy of sheep is similar to large breeds of dogs, about 10 to 12 years. However, the length of a sheep’s productive lifetime tends to be much less. This is because a ewe’s productivity is usually highest between 3 and 6 years of age and usually begins to decline after the age of 7. As a result, most ewes are removed from a flock before they would reach their natural life expectancy.
It is also necessary to get rid of older ewes in order to make room for younger ones. The younger animals are usually genetically superior to the older ones.
(Note: We never ate any of our ewes and always found good homes for them to happily live out their lives when they had finished their most productive lambing years with us.)