Why have-a-go farmers are flocking to sheep keeping courses in the Yorkshire Dales

More people are keen to know the provenance of the lamb they put on their table – with some even going as far as buying their own flock.

It has meant an upsurge of interest in sheep keeping courses, which are being run in the heart of Wensleydale.

Viral immunologist Dr Graham Bottley fits the courses between work he does for universities and bodies such as Public Health England.

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About six years ago he decided to start offering courses about sheep, having taught himself from scratch and built up a flock of Swaledales.

Dr Graham Bottley's Swaledale tup Picture Tony JohnsonDr Graham Bottley's Swaledale tup Picture Tony Johnson
Dr Graham Bottley's Swaledale tup Picture Tony Johnson

He said: “A lot of the neighbours are third, fourth or fifth generation sheep farmers and they do things because it’s ‘how you do it’ and that’s often the justification for doing a particular thing.

Whereas I taught myself, I learned the hard way. To start with it was one person here or there, but over the course of the pandemic it really took off.”

People come on to the course for a host of reasons. Dr Bottley cites a couple in their 70s from Leeds, who had no interest whatever in keeping sheep, but wanted to know more about the creatures themselves.

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Sometimes people have brought rural properties only to discover the small flock of sheep in the outside paddock now belongs to them.

Handling is part of the course  Picture: Tony JohnsonHandling is part of the course  Picture: Tony Johnson
Handling is part of the course Picture: Tony Johnson

A key part of his team are two “reasonably well behaved” veteran ewes, 16 and 12. He says, with the older sheep “you can almost see her rolling her eyes” as she is handled as part of the course. People get to learn everything from the equipment – hurdles, yoke gates and feeders down to injectors and hoof shears.

“Everyone has a go at catching sheep with a crook,” Dr Bottley added, and believes it would help if courses like his were officially accredited to ensure people get proper training.

He said: “If you are not very careful, sheep will drop down dead very easily and they do need constant attention. If someone buys an acre field and is going to put in vegetables, chicken and a few sheep, if you approach it with no knowledge, chances are they will suffer.”

More information is at swaledalemutton.com.