The UK has a unique way of sheep farming, called stratification. It's a system that makes use of the country’s different landscapes, all of which are suited to rearing different breeds of sheep.
Hill sheep, such as Herdwicks and Derbyshire Gritstones, are hardy and thick-coated. As such, they are suited to the harsh conditions of Cumbria and the Dales.
In England’s uplands, breeds like the Bluefaced Leicester and Devon and Cornwall Longwool thrive. However, the lowland flocks, which are made up of breeds like the Texel and Suffolk are the most prolific. Here the sheep are used to improve the soil, grazing fields that have rested from crop production. This process of putting fields to grass boosts their fertility for the next crop.
Sheep are farmed for their meat, milk and wool. They are mainly raised on extensive farms, where they are free to roam outside in a natural environment.
Raising sheep, shearing them, and helping them during lambing are core animal husbandry skills. But this also involves preparing the animals for slaughter.
Sustainable supply of lamb
There's a strong demand for a sustainable supply of lamb. The sector also enjoys a good reputation for animal welfare and environmental management. This consumer demand has led to a growing number of assurance programmes and certification schemes to ensure the quality and provenance of meat.
A lot of scientific work is also carried out behind the scenes. Research is ongoing into protecting and developing the valuable gene pool of the English flock. Additionally, scientists continue to work on disease prevention and improving sheep health.
There's also innovation around health products, improved breeding techniques and improved grazing. This is vital as grass makes up 90% of a sheep’s nutritional intake.