A shepherd has earned unlikely online fame after tweeting anonymously among his sheep in the Lake District. @HerdyShepherd1, who wants his prized Herdwicks to be the stars of his feed, has drawn almost 20,000 followers with his updates and views from the hills.
A technophobe converted after a phone upgrade, he says the brevity and immediacy of Twitter make it the perfect way to connect an old world to a new audience. In that spirit, he agreed to be interviewed by way of the direct-messaging service.
Hi Herdy. Tell me what you're seeing right now.
I'm feeding a flock of our sheep surrounded by the fells of the Lake District. So a mass of grey fleeces and bright white heads… I see it every day, but I never get bored of it.
But isn't it dark now?
I'm answering these questions as if I'm shepherding tomorrow morning! I won't have time then. Is that wrong?
Oh! I'd pictured you with a torch typing in bursts with fingerless gloves… Are you surprised by how little some people know about farming?
No. Our past as the first industrialised nation means that for a long time we were increasingly divorced from knowing about farming… It still shocks when you have school groups and some of them have never been to a farm.
What sorts of things do they say?
One kid asked me if we kill sheep to get the wool off or just pull it off.
Like a jumper. That would be much easier. Is that why you turned to Twitter?
Yes. I was frustrated that we are reduced to stereotypes that don't reflect farming people I know and grew up among… hard-working, decent people who care deeply about their landscape… But are also smart and funny.
Are you successfully challenging this?
Ha… I may not be. But there seems to be a widespread appetite to understand what we do...
How many followers did you expect to gain?
I had no expectation anyone would follow us. I would have stopped fairly quickly. But within a day or two it was obvious… Our farming interested hundreds of other people… Much to my family and friends' amusement.
When you say "us"…?
There is no "me". The stars are the sheep, sheepdogs and the valley where we live.
How long has your family been shepherding?
Our family tree peters out in the nearby villages in 1420 and they were always farming people.
Do older relatives struggle to understand your tweeting project?
Yes, my dad. But I've tried to do it respectfully and now he follows on my mother's phone!
What does your wife make of your tweeting?
Bugs the hell out of her! Distracts me from doing what I'm told promptly…
Tell me about your sheep. Are they too numerous to relate to individually?
We run 350-500 ewes and followers. So sometimes as many as 1,000 in the summer…
We know nearly all of our ewes individually and yes, we relate to them… You get to know their characters and their offspring… Sheep are as individual as characters as people are… They look and act differently. Some are bossy, others shy, some friendly.
And how do you relate to your dogs?
They're working animals but ones you have a lot of affection for… So Floss sneaks in to the house for a cuddle some nights.
Has this project taught you anything?
Yes, I think it makes you focus on little details more… And to be honest I think I spend more time looking at my pics than anyone else…
It lets me look at the sheep after dark and make judgments about breeding or their health… But mostly it's made me realise that what most people think is mundane and beneath their attention as culture is actually… Something of great interest to lots of people.