Sheep farmers on Dartmoor are preparing for their main round-up of the year and the rest of us are invited to observe the spectacle, this year, from vantage points on a Buckfastleigh farm which is opening its gates for the day.
picture of a round-up in progress near King’s Tor, Princetown way, by Exmouth-based photographer and photography lecturer Adrian Oakes –
Guests can watch the dogs bringing ewes and their lambs in from the moorland where they graze for most of the time and there will be experts on hand from various Dartmoor organisations to explain the round-up and put it in context, with the help of a little show of different breeds, a catering van, some explanation of the ancient rights which are involved in the grazing of common land, a butterfly exhibition, wool stall, pony show, dog display arena and more.
The chosen date is Saturday November 3 but it could be postponed a week if the weather is really bad, and there is a limit on numbers, so interest needs to be registered in advance. Call 01822 890414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org/
The event will last from 10am to 3 pm. Adults will be asked for £6, children free. Rendezvous point, and home of the exhibition, is Bowden Farm, Buckfastleigh, TQ11 0JG.
The farmer there, Russell Ashford, says: “I want to share with the public how we manage the commons and the benefits that delivers for the environment. Without the livestock grazing, much of Dartmoor would be unwalkable and some plants and birds would not be there.”
The commoners’ governing council has a rule that all sheep should be off the moor for two weeks in November, to give time for parasite eggs to die off. The northern half of the moor has a slightly different timetable and farms have a little leeway on the dates but there is a crossover period of at least a week when the moor should be empty of sheep.
Farmers take advantage of the opportunity to sort, treat and mark their sheep – some to go for sale, to butchers or fatteners or breeders, some ewes to be tupped for next year’s spring lambs, some youngsters to be sent back to the moors to grow into mothers, and so on. Ewes with twins will probably be kept in-bye for a while for the extra feeding they need.
The exhibition animals will include local breeds like trhe Whitefaced and Greyfaced Dartmoor but most of the sheep on the moor are probably Scotch Blackfaces like these …
Hill and mountain breeds produce hardy ewes which are usually crossed with fatter downs types, like Suffolks and Texels, to produce good butchers’ lambs. Round here, the blackfaced ones are likely to be Scotch Blackface or Swaledale and the white ones Welsh Mountain or Cheviot. Bowdon Farm has 320 Scotch Blackface ewes.
Some breeds can live off the land all year. Some are more productive but need to be taken under cover for lambing in winter. Every farmer runs a different round-up calendar but the November gather is the one they all share on Dartmoor.
The open day at Buckfastleigh is an experiment which might be extended next year.
Matt Cole of Greenwell Farm, Yelverton, will be one of the guides.
“It’ll be a good event,” he says.