Aiming for a hardy sheep that will fend for themselves has resulted in the South Country Cheviot being the answer for Morag and Blair Cockburn of Stirkfield Farm based just outside of Biggar.

“The Cheviots have always been here, they suit the modern ethos to our hill farm on a low input system, yet still being able to produce hardy lambs which are much sought after – both as breeding sheep as well as producing quality carcases which is the end product in it all,” said Morag, who will lamb outside on the hill from the middle of April onwards.

Around 250-300 of the ewes will be bearing twins, in which no concentrates are fed to any ewe prior to lambing, just a crystal tub.

Blair added: “Cheviots are very natural sheep and survive on little inputs, so it is a cost we do not need. The sheep last longer without being heavily fed and still produce hardy lambs for the hill.”

Nothing is AI'd up at Stirkfield, to keep the sheep natural and not interfered with, which keeps everything running on the hill smoothly for the breed.

“They are the best hill breed for confirmation and are very versatile sheep,” said Morag, adding that the draft ewes are prolific breeders and can be crossed with any sire and will still do well.

Top wedder lambs are sold off their mothers fat in September weighing between 36-40 kg through Harrison and Hetherington's Lockerbie Market, with the remainder sold as stores farm to farm privately.

On the flip side the best of the ewe lambs will be retained for breeding in the flock – around 260 annually – with the remainder being sold privately to regular customers from up in Aberdeen right down to Wales.

Draft ewes and gimmers not used in the flock will be sold through C and D Auction Marts’ Longtown base, with this year the duo setting a new high price of £360 for a pen of five ewes, which sold to James Campbell, Kypehill at Strathaven.

On the breeding front the best pick of 25 tups will leave the farm every year, with the main draw – around 14 shearlings – going to the main society sale at Lockerbie. The remainder will be sold privately sometimes as two-shears, but the team like to take them to sales as shearlings.

“It is always a good day with a bit of banter from fellow breeders, it is the main sale, so it attracts everyone to find their stock tup,” said Blair, who sold their top priced tup in 2016 for £15,000 to George Irving of Mount Benger and the Commons family of Crossdykes.

Even with being last in the sale this year Blair and Morag still enjoyed a cracking trade, when selling their pen of 18 to cash in at £1800 with a top of £5500.

On the flip side, the most influential tup in the flock has been the £10,000 Skelfhill Hercules, which was bought in at Lockerbie, and has been a great breeder for the flock, leaving a lot of good sons for the duo to sell on.

“It is always a difficult challenging picking out the stock tup, but it is a crucial one. We are looking for character, confirmation and hair when selecting the right ram. You want to see 50 ewes just like the tup you buy in a few years so they must carry good style and presence. We need our stock tups to be good on their legs as well, it is a vital part,” explained Blair, who is also part of the business at his family home farm, Kingside.

Kingside is home to 1200 ewes a mixture of North Country Cheviots and Blackface ewes, in which the family have been home to since 1934, now run by Blair and his brother, Tom, along with part-time shepherd, Alan Frame.

The majority of wedder lambs will be sold direct to Dunbia, with the remaining being sold to local markets to be hung up.

Read more: Lockerbie SCC record broken at £28,000

On the female front, 500 lambs and gimmers will leave the farm annually with the Cheviot Mule ewe lambs being sent to Longtown while the Scotch Mule ewe lambs being sourced privately to repeat customers. Running a very much closed flock, all replacements are home-bred to reduce bringing in any diseases to the farm and maximising the profit revenue.

If that doesn’t keep the team at Kingside busy enough, they also run 90 suckler cows which are split spring and autumn calving, with everything being sold store through Lanark Auction Market, Hexham and Northern Marts or privately.

Both Kingside and Stirkfield have entries for LiveScot this year, between them having seven pairs of lambs for the event later in the month.

“We always try and support LiveScot, it is always a good day out catching up with like-minded people and enjoying a few drams,” said Morag, who first started exhibiting at the event in 1998, due to the encouragement of Hume Patterson, who started dressing the lambs ahead of LiveScot.

Blair and Morag are no unusual to the top awards having previously bagged the best pair of Cheviot lambs on several occasions. Although the duo do not take on many other shows – apart from the locals, Peebles and Abington – they believe it is a great eye opener for the public perception.

“There are fewer and fewer people on farms now a day so showing is becoming more difficult due to time constraints. We have to support it as much as we can to see a strong future,” said Morag, who is happy with the number of stock at Stirkfield with the system being kept simple it works well.

Blair added: “The Cheviots have a strong future with the end product, the carcase, being the very important part to the cycle. There is a strong export demand for the lamb meat and the Cheviot is hitting that niche market coming straight off their mothers. The Mediterranean demand for all cuts of lambs is keeping the trade strong.

“We hope that the good prices this year reflects the standards and work involved in producing locally produced food and hope the trade remains where it is. We would hope that Christmas onwards there will be the export demand.

“There is a strong future for farming as long as we don’t get the flood gates for cheap imported meat, consumers need to realise and understand the standards involved in producing scotch meat,” concluded Blair and Morag.

Farm Facts

Involvement: Blair and Morag Cockburn

History: Morag’s family have been in Stirkfield since 1987, with Morag taking on the running in 1997.

Land: 1400 acres which rises to 1800ft above sea level.

Stock numbers: 850 South Country Cheviot ewes

On The Spot Questions

Best investment: Tracks for the quad bike… it is a wee life we live up here!

If you could change one thing, what would it be?: The public perception on how food is produced. The gap is due to the little knowledge to the public, and it is actually a shame they don’t know more about food standards in Scotland.

Favourite restaurant: The Martin Wishart in Edinbrugh.

What did you miss most through lockdown: The freedom of movement and meeting up with friends and family.