A rather chilly walk round Barnack Hills and Holes NNR this afternoon, with the sunshine too weak to counteract the rather stiff breeze. I admired and photographed lichens, seed-heads back-lit by the low sun and clumps of mistletoe in the hawthorns. But I had most fun just chilling with the resident herd of Shetland sheep, who were busy grazing off all the coarse grasses and young scrub. I chatted to the voluntary warden, who was very excited that they'd just been joined by a small group of Herdwicks (see extra).
The Shetland is classed as a primitive or ‘unimproved’ sheep; however its versatility in providing tasty, sweet meat, highest quality fine fleece, ease of handling and attractive appearance have made it a popular choice for a whole range of people. They are very hardy, good milky mothers and easy lambers. Being ‘browsers’ rather than just ‘grazers’ they have been found highly useful for conservation grazing on sites such as Barnack.
A special feature of the head is the straight facial profile, but with a distinct hollow between the cheek and nose. The eyes are protuberant and set well apart - about three-quarters of the distance between the nose and the top of the head. The ears are small and fine, set well back on the head and carried slightly above the horizontal. Small amounts of wool are normally present on the forehead and almost always on the cheeks. All these features can be seen on this sheep. The most important attribute of the breed is its wool, which is the finest of all native breeds and which shows an amazing variety of colours and patterns, many of which were present at Barnack. There are 11 main whole colours and 30 recognised markings.