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Sheep Markings

Different marks on the same hill farm indicate different fells

So how does a farmer recognise his or her own sheep if they share a fell with another farmers' sheep? Even though most hill-farmers know each individual ewe, (just as we would recognise different people), each sheep has a series of marks to identify the farm to which it belongs.

The most obvious of these marks is a colour on the fleece of the sheep. It might be a spot on the back, a stripe on the left shoulder, a letter T on the side, or a combination of all three. The permutations are endless, and every 5 years, a book called "The Shepherd's Guide" is published, listing every mark from every hill farm in the UK. Because farms have access to more than one fell or have been amalgamated into bigger units over the years, some farms have more than one marking.

In addition to this, and mainly because sheep are sheared annually or can shed their fleeces naturally, the farmer also burns his initials into the horn of young female sheep. Some farmers also clip a small piece of skin from a particular part of the sheep's ear.

Plastic Tags

More recently, coloured plastic tags, showing the name of the farmer with a code for the sheep have also been introduced and these are put into the female lambs ear as soon as it is born. This enables the farmer to keep records of the lamb's breeding. Some bloodlines stretch back hundreds of years.

The colour of a tag denotes the year in which the sheep was born. In this picture the mother sheep wears a red tag which shows that it was born in the spring of 2000. It's lamb wears a yellow tag which indicates it was born in the spring of 2002. Since a sheep does not lamb until it's second year you can work out that this sheep has just given birth to it's first lamb.