Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association

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10 years on from Foot & Mouth

2001 was a terrible year for so many.  Ten years have passed quickly, but the scars of seeing animals piled high in burning pyres remain.  For a time hope was lost from the farming community, but time heals and the Heritage Gene Bank continues as a reminder of how science did and can continue to help farming and the heritage of sheep in our countryside.

To confirm the continuing viability of the genetic resources that were collected in 2001 and maintained all these years at Innovis, The Sheep Trust has gone back to the stored material and is using a small sample from the bank to produce Herdwick lambs this year.

At the height of the FMD epidemic in 2001, there were genuine fears that all of the Herdwicks in the Lake District would be destroyed.  To guard against this, 13 farms contributed semen from their rams and four flocks provided embryos for the Bank.  It is samples from these resources that the Trust is now using.

All of Andrew Nicholson's Herdwick rams were killed in 2001.  But semen from Andrew's animals was amongst that collected and conserved in the Heritage Gene Bank.  Some of those resources have now been used to inseminate six of Andrew's Herdwick ewes.  Their offspring of those rams lost to FMD ten years ago were born in May 2011  A sign that conservation can work to protect bloodlines in perpetuity.

Importantly, embryos hold a full complement of "Herdwick-ness" contributed by both the ram and the ewe and can therefore be used to reconstitute the breed when implanted into surrogate mothers.  Several of the embryos collected in 2001 were implanted in two ewes of the commercial "mule" sheep.  

The embryo lambs were returned in September to the farmers who donated them.