RUNNING a profitable agricultural business at a young age on some of Argyllshire’s wettest and most remote areas is no easy task, but with passion, dedication and a good worth ethnic, the Menzies family is certainly up to the job.
Brothers Niall (25) and Blair (22), who farm 13 miles from Oban, at Corrylorn, Kilninver, with their mum, Kirsteen and younger sister, Beth (17), are the third generation to be farming the 2100-acre unit. It was originally a tenanted farm before being purchased from the estate by their late father, Peter, in the 1980s.
“It’s very much a way of life being a hill farmer. The views we get to see every day are pretty amazing and it’s a peaceful place to work in with nobody bothering you,” said Niall, with Blair and Beth both very much in agreement.
Maintaining a 710-strong flock of Blackfaces, Corrylorn rises from 450ft at the farm steading to 1390ft at the top of the hill, so it’s little surprise that it has always been the trusted, hardy, hill Blackie ewe that has been the sole sheep breed here and, in fact, the only type of livestock now farmed.

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Single bearing ewes which will be brought down onto the in-bye hill parks near the steading by mid-April

“Dad originally had some cattle on the farm back in the 1980s, but it wasn’t really viable when you consider the climate and the land here. Both the hill ground and the hill parks are very peaty which makes the ground even wetter when it rains”, said eldest brother Niall, who completed an HND in Agriculture at Greenmount College in Northern Ireland.
He now works full-time as an agricultural merchant for Reid and Robertson, in Oban, dedicating all of his spare time to working at home.
“Although the Blackface is the best suited breed for us, our Blackfaces are much smaller compared to the Perth and Borders type”, added Blair, who also has an agricultural qualification under his belt and who is based at home, as well as doing contract work throughout the year for neighbours.
While Blair is more into the practical side of the business, with Niall keeping on top of the bookwork, mum Kirsteen works away from the farm full-time, as well as sister Beth (17), who is keen to keep up the family tradition and begins studies in agriculture at Oatridge, later this year.
“You can’t run a hill farm business like ours without some of us taking on full-time jobs, especially when basic farm payments have been delayed so much in recent years and no-one knows what they will look like, or indeed if there will be such a thing, in the years to come,” commented Blair.
While not much has changed within the flock since the boys have been at the helm, their reliance on such a low maintenance breed, has ensured input costs are kept to a minimum whilst also allowing home-bred replacements to be retained.
“We run a closed flock bar a few stock tups, keeping everything pure. Crossing isn’t really an option for us, not just because of the ground but due to the fact we wouldn’t have the same numbers when picking out our ewe lambs for stock each year,” said Niall.
“Although we may not be introducing fresh stock to the flock, we’re at less risk of diseases and the sheep should know us better,” added Blair.
Inevitably, it’s a simple and cost-effective diet which the ewes receive, as well as a strict regime in treating the flock on the run up to spring which makes for a successful true hill lambing at Corrylorn.
“All of our ewes receive a mineral drench and are dosed for fluke and worms three weeks before tupping. They’re re-done again at scanning time when they also get their Heptavac P jab.
“Closer to lambing, the ewes come down into hill parks to lamb where they are treated with Crovect to safeguard against tick.”  Ewes are again dosed for fluke and worms when they go back to the hill after lambing, while at marking, lambs get their first Crovect spray and at shearing, all lambs get their first Heptavac injection.
Such is the ongoing problem with ticks that the Menzies also dip twice a year – at clipping and at speaning.
A real hill farm, tups don’t go out until the end of November and last year that was on the 24th, at a rate of one tup to 50 ewes with the tups staying with them for two complete cycles.
“We scan ewes in the third week in February and this year’s saw the top end scan at 115%, with 23 barren out of 324 scanned, while the weaner, or bottom half scanned at 95%,” said Niall.  

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These ewes carrying twins receive additional feeding on the hill parks

Luckily, the Menzies’ have 60 ha of improved ground which enables the ewes to lamb closer to home and where there is slightly more shelter. Ewes carrying single lambs survive purely on Tithebarn Proto mineral blocks which are given at a rate of one block to 40 ewes every week from after tupping, right through to lambing. Two weeks after lambing, they’re sent back to the hill with their lambs.
Ewes with twins, however, stay down from scanning through until August and are provided with an 18% protein nut to keep them going until the weather improves and grass appears. The in-bye land is weed wiped to reduce the bracken burden and an application of lime and fertiliser boosts spring growth.
Most years up to 200 hoggs are retained as replacements which qualify for the new Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme. These are wintered at home on the other side of the hill which is of slightly better ground and provided with an 18% protein nut every day, and bought in hay from November to April.

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The Menzies flock’s replacement ewe hoggs which run on slightly better ground on the other side of the hill to grow them on for their productive lives          

“The new ewe hogg scheme provides a big chunk of our payment and while it costs a lot to feed them through the winter, it gets them used to feeding so they know what it is when they need it on the run up to lambing,” commented Blair.
On the income side, the family are only able to sell store lambs as there is insufficient ground to finish anything, plus draft ewes.
So all stores are sold at Dalmally in September, where, for the last five years, the top draw have averaged £52 at 33-34kg, with the second draw cashing in at £45-£46 at 30-31kg. Old ewes are sold as five-year-olds, with last year’s pen of 114 selling to £80.
Selecting and buying stock rams to achieve these results is no easy task, especially when the value of commercial rams is increasing all the time.
“I think we need to remember the Blackface is a hill breed and should be treated like one. Trying to buy our kind of tup, purely for the hill is becoming a nightmare and the prices paid are getting a bit ridiculous,” said Niall.
“When selling old ewes, it’s the carcase and mouth that’s most important, so we look to buy good big tups with size and shape. The first thing that’s cut off is the head, so that’s not something we concentrate on when buying,” added Blair.
Working at a young age in an ever challenging industry and managing to produce progeny that make a penny or two in the market place, is becoming increasingly difficult. Add to that, working in an area where farms are reducing in size due to tree planting and young people moving away to widen their horizons, and it is indeed a hard life for the boys and Beth.
But, with help and support from their mum, it sounds as if they wouldn’t have it any other way. “There is nothing better than seeing ewes and lambs return back to the hill, fit, happy and healthy,” concluded Niall.