News archive

September 2014 - The continental Herdwick
We are delighted to present a new association for the Herdwick breeders on the European mainland. When it comes to breeding books the Herdwick is an outsider. The ancestors are not officially registered which means Lakeland Herdwicks are not allowed in the conventional EU breeding books. The solution we propose is a new association according to the traditions of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association of Cumbria. Welcome to ContinentalHerdwick Sheep Breeders Association!

May 2014 -
 Back to the Lake District tradition
After two years we finally received an answer considering the annex of the flock book for Herdwicks in Belgium. The European standard is a closed flock book which means that only offspring of parents in the book is candidate pedigree and may be introduced after an inspection. 

For the population of origin in the Lake District there is no closed flock book. The Herdwick Sheep Breeders' Association maintains an open flock book without official pedigree details. Annually Herdwicks are added to the Flock Book after inspection. This makes the Herdwick one of the few exceptions that does not fit into the European standard. If one knows the breeders in the Lakeland, you’ll understand that they will not adapt to a European standard. For breeders with several hundred to several thousand animals living in the mountains it is practical impossible to do. The closed flock book doesn’t fit in Lakeland traditions.

The European legislation provides in exceptional cases, the installation of an annex flock book; in the current system for female and male animals without official pedigree certificate. After several generations of crosses with animals from the main section of the book the offspring is transferred to the main section. For the moment Europe is working on regulations that will only allow females in the annex.

End of 2012 we proposed an annex flock book to the association ‘Small Ruminants Vlaanderen’, the association that manages the flock books for several breeds in Belgium. Recently we got the message that this will never be approved for males. For females, there remains a possibility, but in a complex way. For male offspring only the second generation is allowed in the main part which means after five years.

From a scientific point of view, this cautious influx of new genes seems a logical approach. However, it is striking that these principles are completely thrown overboard once animals are in the closed flock book. Animals are only excluded in case of zootechnical defects (teeth and testicles) which is also done by the HSBA in the open flock book. The dominance of an animal in the population (all animals of a particular country or region) and even inbreeding are not regulated. The only certainty is the inheritance of the pedigree. The closed flock book is no guarantee for quality. The official document is simply an appearance of high quality. Everything comes down to the common sense and honesty of the breeder. We want to keep the affinity with the Lake District instead of losing ourselves in all kinds of nonsensical rules. We will keep our own pedigrees and breed Herdwicks according to the Lake District tradition.

Westerplas Herdwicks conquer Europe
In 2012 we decided to focus our breeding also on exports. Eighteen months later we have exported to five European countries and the share of exports is two thirds of our sales. We proudly present an overview of the places in google maps.

August 22, 2013 - Weaning lambs
In our stable the lambs are selected on Herdwick quality. Once more we must conclude that it is difficult to breed nice horned rams, about 1/5. The selection consists of ewes for rejuvenating our flock, quality animals for sale (male and female) and lambs for the meat market. The meat of one third of the lambs goes to the sponsors of the project. This way the sponsorship creates a mandatory for strict selection of breeding animals.

July 11, 2013 - Maedi-Visna certificate
Blood is collected from all sheep older than 12 months. We joined the program in 2010 because we decided to focus on export of Herdwick sheep. Our new certificate is valid for two years. 

Juli 6, 2013 - The hills of Luxembourg
Five Herdwicks are exported to the hills of Goesdorf. 

July 3, 2013 - Back to the Mountains
Nine Herdwicks are exported to Le Pont de Montvert - France, about 100 kilometres north of Montpellier. Le Pont de Montvert is located in the Massif Central Mountains. The region is known for its rivers Tarn and Ardèche. Meanwhile, we prepare the following export to Goesdorf, Luxembourg.

Juni, 1, 2013 - Exporting shearling ram to Ruurlo - Netherlands

April, 25, 2013 - Selection shearlings
At the age of 12 to 14 months the lambs grow into 'real' Herdwicks. A first selection was already made in fall after weaning. The result of our spring selection: 6 rams and 12 ewes to renew our flock and to sell for breeding (all scrapie tested ARR/ARR).

March 12, 2013 - Start of the lambing season
The start of the lambing season was an instant hit. No less than five ewes gave birth to twins and this during a snowstorm. A perilous operation for the 'office farmers', but we managed to get them cozy and well in our stable at the museum Gevaert-Minne. Now waiting for the next wave and hopefully spring weather soon.

December 2012 - An analysis of the Belgian Herdwick population
To establish an annex in the Flock Book the Belgian Herdwick population was analysed. The annex is necessary to import animals from the ‘mother population’ in the United Kingdom. Since 2012 the government strictly applies the European pedigree rules. The Flock Book of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders' Association is based solely on the breed standard. There are, in contrast to the closed Flock Books in the rest of Europe, no origin data registered. Through a web application from the Institute of Farm Animal Genetics (FLI) - Germany an analysis of the pedigree and population structure was generated. Steven Janssens, who works at the KU Leuven - Livestock Genetics, Department of Biosystems, commented on the reports.

Since the establishment of the Flock Book in Belgium, a total of 863 Herdwicks was registered. Currently, there are 404 of them (306 female and 98 male) active in the database over 24 breeders. Over half of these animals are less than three years old. The average number of animals per breeder is 16.8. The three largest breeders together own for nearly half of the total number of animals in Belgium. Taking into account the recent creation of the Herdwick Flock book in Belgium the depth of the pedigree is limited. The data are fairly complete for the years 2010 to 2012, with a depth of two generations. The number of inbred animals is low and seems to be no issue at the moment. This can be explained by the ‘constant’ import from the UK the last three to four years. For the last few years, the average inbreeding coefficient is 0.025 representing a common grandfather. The average rises up to 0.15 if we look at the inbred animals themselves, which can be equated with a grandfather-granddaughter relationship.

The effective population size is a measure of genetic diversity. It corresponds to the number of individuals in the same population with an ideal rate of inbreeding and the same variation in allele frequencies. It is therefore an important parameter for breeding. In farm animals the figures can greatly differ from random mating in a 'wild' population. So despite a theoretically ideal population a higher average inbreeding level can occur. The extent of the ‘footprint’ of an individual animal on the population is determined by the breeders. An effective population size (Ne) equal to or greater than 100 is considered to be stable. The inbreeding coefficient in this case is 0.005 per generation. An effective population size of less than 50 has an inbreeding coefficient of 0.01 per generation and is an absolute minimum. In such a scenario, the conservation of the variety is prior on selection according to the breed standard.
The effective population size in the reports is calculated in different ways and varies depending on the method. The first method contains a formula that uses the rate of inbreeding and is therefore less accurate because of the limited depth of the pedigree. The second method uses the number of parents. Taking into account the different calculation methods, the effective population size is estimated at 50 to 80, which is insufficient for the future to avoid inbreeding. To raise the effective population size at a stable level and to retain it, a continuous flow of new animals is necessary.
Adviced by the Agency for Agriculture and Fisheries from the Flemish government a draft regulation was prepared which will be submitted to the Belgian Association of Herdwick Breeders’ on December 21, 2012. 

September 2012 - What makes for a good Herdwick
Early September we visited some Herdwick breeders in the Lakeland. We wanted to hear their story of what makes a good Herdwick. Unfortunately we forgot the piece to fix the camera to the tripod, so the image is a little shaky. The second day we also had problems with the battery but nevertheless we were able to collect some nice comments from breeders with years of experience. The director of the event and always ready for a challenge was Mayson Weir from Dowthwaite Head farm. In the first part Jean Wilson from Dockray is judging ewes, randomly chosen, at Liz & Bill McKinneys’ farm at Grizebeck. The second part is filmed at Ian Grisedale in Milton-Crooklands, giving comments on two of his own rams and a ewe. Watch the videos here.

22 september – 15 november 2012 – Autumn@Westerplas Flock
November means mating season for Herdwicks. We started a little earlier in the third week of September with the tups Burdock (Howeghyll) and Bobby (Dockray), with a group of seven and nine ewes. In early November Bellboy (Crookabeck) joined twelve ewes at the Westerplas and mid-November the rams Adam (Dowthwaite Head) and Gatesgarth got each four ewes. The lambing season will therefore be spread from early March till early May. Our old tup Captain is travelling this Autumn from Mannekensvere at the coast to Oostwinkel near Eeklo. He will serve some ewes of colleague breeders.

19 October 2012 - Belgian Herdwick Association agrees with an annex to the flock-book
The Belgian Herdwick Association meets twice a year. October 19th the members agreed with an annex to the flock-book. This should allow not-pedigree sheep to enter, according to the European legislation. The Herdwick Sheep Breeders' Association (UK) does not have a ‘closed flock-book’ whereby Herdwicks from the Lake District cannot be added to the main section of the flock-book in Belgium. The number of bloodlines on the continent is limited. According to the data of KHV there are only about 10 unrelated rams registered in Belgium. Though the debate was quite agitated it is the result that matters. The regulations will now be put forward to the government. The discussion about improving the breed remains a sensitive issue and was not settled.

6 October 2012 - Cockermouth Prize Show and Sale
Though we went to the Lake District early September we could not skip the Cockermouth auction. The auction guarantees a nice collection of registered Herdwick rams. It is also an opportunity to meet the established breeders of Cumbria. Visualizing the breeders is a tool for us to puzzle our Westerplas Flock bloodlines together. However for foreigners it is not possible to buy at the auction. Only 20 tups, on 217 presented, were scrapie tested. Nine rams were suitable for export (genotype ARR/ARR). On Sunday Mayson Weir tested our ‘Herdwick knowledge’. The assignment was to share about 30 ewes amongst four rams. We are pleased that one of these rams, bred by Willie Richardson - Gatesgarth, comes to Belgium late October. Pictures in a new web-album.

28 September 2012 – New arrivals!
Six gimmers, four ewes and a tup from the Lake District arrive after a long journey at our small stable near the museum Gevaert-Minne. The lambs are bred by Liz and Bill McKinney from Grizebeck in southern Cumbria, three ewes of Jean Wilson and a ewe and ram of Mayson Weir. These animals are an important addition to our flock. New blood gives new opportunities to improve our breed. They will stay a few weeks at Gevaert-Minne before they will be mixed with our flock. Some pictures in the album Westerplas Flock.

8 September 2012 - Examination of shearlings and approving ram lambs
Judges Ariane Labarque and Ruben Vereecke of the Belgian Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association judge seven shearling ewes and two shearling rams. Ten ram lambs are approved for breeding. This means that the testicles and the teeth are checked for defects. Next year they get a full inspection on the eight parts of the breed standard.

1 - 3 September 2012 - Judging at Hesket Newmarket Show
For the third year in a row we visit the Lake District in Autumn. Compared with the years before in which we were looking for Herdwicks to buy our goal is to learn more about the breed and the breeding. Mayson Weir of Dowthwaite Head Farm elaborated a full program and guided us through the Lakeland. We kick off on Saturday, September 1 with the Hesket New Market Show. Mayson enlisted us as judge for the Herdwick Show. After the awards our overseas Herdwickproject got extensive press coverage. The following days we pay a visit to Willie Richardson, Joseph Weir, TG Grave, Liz and Bill McKinney, Mary Bell and Ian Grisedale. Some of these visits were accompanied by Jean Wilson for expert explanation. John, a butcher of 82 years with a sense of humour, initiates us in the traditional cutting of lamb. We wish to thank everyone for their hospitality and the time they spent for us, especially Fay and Mayson Weir for their warm welcome and friendly atmosphere at the dinner in the company of their family from New Zealand. During this trip we stayed at High Lodore Farm in Borrowdale, an excellent bed and breakfast.

11 August 2012 - Sending our daughters to Wallonia
The association of Belgian Herdwick Breeders exists since 2008 and represents mainly Flemish breeders living in the northern part of the country. This year we could change that. Ewe lambs of the herd of the Westerplas were sent to St-Pieters-Voeren (part of Flanders but close to Wallonia), Mesnil-Eglise near Dinant and Rocherath near the German border. At least two buyers also want to join the VBHF.

5 August 2012 - Exporting to Germany
Just a few days after our first export of Herdwicks, tup Coss and two ewe lambs changed the Westerplas for the lowlands of Wulsbüttel-Hoope near Bremen in Germany. Because the transport could be performed within 8 hours we were able to transport the sheep ourselves. 

3 August 2012 - Exporting the first Herdwicks to Austria
The past two years we did a lot of efforts to be able to offer sheep for export. Mid July we could finalize our first deal for six sheep. After another series of analyzes, paperwork and inspection by the ‘Federal Food Safety Agency’ the animals left Sint-Martens-Latem. Our first export also means the first Herdwicks in Austria! According to the information of the buyer their new home in Stubenberg is called "sheep hill".

11 July 2012 - The lambs are weaned from their mothers
Lambing season 2012: 47 lambs from 29 ewes and 4 rams. After weaning, we will make a first selection of the lambs according to the origin and pedigree qualities. Some animals are already reserved by enthusiastic new Herdwick breeders’. Most of the lambs are suitable for export to foreign countries (genotype ARR/ARR).

16 June 2012 – Jean Wilson and Mayson Weir ‘judge’ the Westerplas Flock
Jean Wilson and Mayson Weir, both Herdwickbreeders at heart, and members of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders' Association brought on 16 June 2012 a visit to the Westerplas Herd. We were very pleased that members of the English association showed interest in the Herdwick on the mainland. The Westerplas Flock and the Flock of Bomlozeput (resp. Sint-Martens-Latem and Watervliet, Belgium) were the completion of their trip through Germany and the Netherlands. It was a very exciting day where the animals were carefully inspected. In the fall we will make the trip (meanwhile traditionally) in the opposite direction to enjoy the beautiful Lake District.