Up here on the farm, winter is truly setting in. A light dusting of snow overnight meant we were out first thing this morning to check on the flock.
It’s fascinating to watch how the two breeds we keep respond differently to harsher weather - the Shetlands thrive, but the Ryelands aren’t quite built for snow.
As primitive mountain sheep, Shetlands are much hardier. In the wilds of the Shetland Isles, snow, ice and driving rain are common, so this doesn’t phase these tough nuts! They’re adept at digging through the thin layer of snow to find food, and as browsers, they’ll be more inclined to choose trees, shrubs and brambles. As you can see here, they’re happily spread out across the field - no need to huddle together for warmth.
In contrast, Ryeland sheep were bred on lush, lowland farms of Southern England and Wales. As a result, they’re much more suited to warmer, dryer weather than the Shetland. Whilst their thick and crimpy fleece will keep them warm and dry over winter, they’ll tend to struggle a bit more to find food. As slightly bigger sheep, they also need more nutrients to keep their condition. We weren’t surprised when wandering the fields this morning to find them all huddled together in a group, sheltered in the safety of a hedgerow.
We’ll keep a closer eye on the Ryelands over the next couple of days - though luckily the snow is already thawing!