HE is the Prince of Wools and she is a modern-day Bo Peep who will definitely not be losing his sheep.
Charlotte Darwent looks after Prince Charles’ 650-strong flock of sheep at Dumfries House in Ayrshire.
At just 25, she’s responsible for looking after the Duke of Rothesay’s extensive collection of rare native breeds.
Charles has previously spoken about how he uses homeopathy on his farm animals instead of antibiotics.
But Charlotte reckons it’s being a female shepherdess in a male profession that’s the most unusual thing at Dumfries House.
She said: “It’s a very male- dominated world.
“But to me it was just what I wanted to do, so I had to throw myself in at the deep end and go for it. I had an outdoorsy family with lots of animals. When I left school, I didn’t want to be in an office – I definitely wanted to work with sheep. It just felt right.”
She gained experience by helping out with lambing on farms from Herefordshire to Aberdeenshire and it was while working on the Lowther Estate in Cumbria that she heard of the opening at Dumfries House.
“John Rowell, who runs the farm here, said, ‘send in your CV and come and spend a day here’ – and I did, and got the job,” said Charlotte.
In late spring and early summer she will be out on her quad bike at 6am, but in winter it is different.
“In December or January it’s not coming light till 8am, and you can’t be in the fields when it’s pitch black, so I don’t start till 7.30am.
“Each season there’s something different – now we’re lambing, then shearing, then getting the ewes ready to go to the rams, then sending the fat lambs to market.
“On a blizzard day on the quad bike, winters here can be quite brutal, and even though you’re feeling so cold, you’ve got to keep going and get round all the sheep. But I wouldn’t want to do anything different.”
The prince takes a keen interest in the sheep at the stately home he saved for the nation in 2007.
Charles – who is Great Grand Steward of Dumfries House – covered £20 million of the £45m cost of buying the property by borrowing from the banks via his charitable foundation. He has since paid off the loan.
The Duke of Rothesay has long been sensitive to the plight of sheep farmers and through his initiative, the Campaign for Wool, he has sought to re-popularise the fabric.
He is also a leading light in trying to make mutton meat popular again.
The sheep at Dumfries House are all native breeds: Scotch Mules, Cheviots, Suffolk crosses, Lleyn crosses and Border Leicesters.
“You never stop learning, you need to persevere and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” said Charlotte.
And that includes preparing the farm for going full organic.
Prince Charles was one of organic farming’s earliest cheerleaders and his organic food business is estimated to be worth in excess of £200m.
Charlotte is currently taking a part-time course in organic forage and livestock production to help cope with Dumfries House farm going fully organic in January. But Charlotte has some help. And it’s not just the 200 other staff at Dumfries House. Rather, it’s the farm’s latest recruit – eight-month-old Border collie sheepdog Gill.
The bitch joined the estate’s Home Farm team earlier this year and is undertaking on-the-job training with Charlotte, who is originally from Knutsford in Cheshire, and moved to Cumnock four years ago.She also uses three other dogs for her job, Dot, Maggie and Flash.
“Whilst I don’t come from a farming background, I’ve always been really interested in it,” she said.
“Growing up, I used to help local farmers during lambing season as I wanted to gain as much experience as possible.”
Dumfries House estate’s first newborn lamb of 2018 arrived on April 9 to spark a series of around 600 births delivered by ewes on the estate.
Dumfries House was designed by the famous Scottish architect brothers Robert, John and James Adams, in the 1750s.