The Sheep Year in Valtos

In years gone by, practically all the sheep belonging to Valtos and Cliff spent the winter on the hill grazings, out as far as the Morsgail boundary, but in those days they were all hardy Blackfaces. Nowadays some people are trying for bigger fatter lambs for the mainland market, and using Texel, Cheviot or Suffolk rams. Their offspring are not suitable for the hill so they are kept at home on the in-bye grazing. Towards the end of February those on the croft will need to be fed, and there always seem to be some poorer lambs who are brought under cover and given special care.

Round about the 14th April all the sheep on the hill are rounded up and brought home for the lambing, which starts about a week later. They are all free to roam the village until 15th May when they are collected again and the Blackfaces go back out to the hill, including the new lambs, but the crossed lambs are kept at home.

There used to be two huge fanks at Gisla in the summer; one in the middle of July to shear the sheep and the other in mid August to wean the lambs. Fifty years ago a lorry would collect up to 50 men to do this work, but now there isn’t the man-power and they are lucky to raise half a dozen men, and so these two fanks have been amalgamated and the shearing and weaning happen together in August.

In mid July the wedders (males) go to be fattened on Pabbay Bheag until November or December when they come back and are killed for the freezer. The hoggs (that year’s lambs, born in May and weaned in August) are taken on a boat trip to Pabbay in September and spend the winter there on excellent grazing.

The special lambs with the non-Blackface sires are sold locally to mainland dealers in September and the tough Blackfaces usually go to the local auction mart. However a number of the Blackface lambs are kept for breeding and home kill.

All the sheep on the hill are brought home towards the beginning of November for dipping and dosing. The ewes and shearlings of two years old and over are separated out and put to various rams for approximately three weeks until 22nd December. Then they are kept on the in-bye land and given food, especially the rams, who can get quite thin after all that hard work! The Texel etc ram ewes are kept at home and the Blackface ram ewes are taken back out to the hill again.

And the sheep round starts all over again.

Text by Anthea Logan and DC Morrison; pictures by Anthea Logan and Sheila Henderson.  See also the excellent video by Keith and Shonnie.