Birkhaw sits against the western flanks of the Howgills, with the Tebay valley spread out below it. The buildings are hundreds of years old and Sarah’s family have been farming here for one hundred and sixty years. There are around 200 Rough Fell ewes on the farm, and with commons rights, the flock goes out onto the Howgills to graze, coming down to the lower fields for lambing and shearing.
The Birkhaw flock is still marked in the traditional way with lug (ear) marks, as well as horn burns and a wool mark. They know their place on the unwalled fells, as they are hefted, which means they stay within certain areas of fell; each lamb learns from its mother. Sarah is one of twenty-eight active graziers on this vast expanse of land and when it’s time to gather the sheep in, neighbouring farmers often work together. The most recent gather ended in a downpour, and Sarah believes the summers are getting much wetter.
Milking stopped at Birkhaw about fifteen years ago, so now the fields are given over to sheep, and keeping the walls up is an important job, one of many daily jobs that Sarah loves.
Her enthusiasm for farming is infectious, and her two daughters are equally keen. With their recent successes at the shows (a champion rosette at the Moorcock show this year), and the attention to breeding that comes with that, it seems they may follow in her footsteps.