Meet the flockers – and their woolly family

Yvonne with Adrian.

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A Tiree couple are feeling a bit woolly-headed since their adoptive family grew from two to 13 in the space of a year.

Looking to escape the city scene, Jason and Yvonne Lancaster moved to the island in 2018 and, following a chance conversation with a crofter friend over a cuppa, a few months down the line found themselves the proud parents of two orphan lambs.

Skip forward a year and the couple now run a successful operation producing handmade hats courtesy of their woolly family which has now reached double figures.

Taking up the story, Yvonne told us: ‘Before our sheep and wool filled lives on Tiree, we were the typical cliché – working in the city, spending our days heading to client meetings, juggling time, fighting congestion and battling ever shrinking deadlines all on repeat day in and day out.

‘In 2018 we listened to our gut and took a leap of faith. As it turns out moving to a small island in the Atlantic was not going to be the biggest change to our lives.

‘Somehow two orphan lambs became seven – technically a flock – in the space of a week.

‘And people told us life slows down when you move to an island!’

The couple now have a little flock of 13 orphan lambs. The original seven: Noah, Bubble, Dot, Matrix, Kelp, Nori and Popcorn were joined in 2020 by: Rocky, Adrian, Athena, Jeff, Serg and Pepper.

‘Rocky got his name because he came to us on death’s door,’ Yvonne explained.

‘Very weak and not given much chance of survival. But he is a fighter and little Rocky is fighting fit now.

‘The others were named after seaweed and by friends and family. It’s hard work thinking up names for lambs so in 2021 we’re going to ask for name suggestions and may even hold a little competition with those who suggest the winning names receiving a free woolly hat from us.’

Like all loving guardians, Jason and Yvonne don’t admit to having favourites and have formed a strong bond with their family.

Yvonne added: ‘Each has their own personality. They come running when they see us, and that’s without bribing them with food or treats. It turns out they are just happy to hang out with us – OK, they do demand a bit of a scratch as well!

‘Most people probably don’t realise but sheep do recognise their names and they can remember up to 50 individuals and whether you were nice to them. Our little flock of orphan lambs are here to stay and it’s our aim that they live out their natural lives happily and healthily.

The couple support their flock by making woolly hats that are ethical, local and lasting, and set up WELAN Tiree as a way to bring structure to the challenge and enable them to work together with like-minded people.

As well as learning everything they could about how to look after their new flock of fluffy family members, the Lancaster’s set out to learn how to turn their summer haircuts, which they need yearly to stay comfortable in warm weather, into woolly handmade hats. After many weeks of trial and error, the 100% Tiree Made woolly hat was born.

‘The amazing thing about living on a small Scottish island is how quickly acquaintances become friends, added Yvonne.

‘Friends who invite you over for a simple cup of tea which turns out to be a life changing moment. Life changing not just for us but for our new fluffy, four-legged family members.

‘And thanks to them people across Scotland have warmer heads on colder days. We hope the result is more orphaned lambs become sheep who live long, healthy and happy lives.’