Despite having a small flock, with just 18 ewes, that hasn’t stopped young breeders, Eilidh and Erin Duncan reaching their goals among the Charollais breed within both sale and show rings.

The sisters, from Clola, Mintlaw, had a cracking year in 2019, taking breed champion at last year’s Royal Highland Show as well as a number of championships and inter-breeds at the five local shows they attend and have become well known among the show circuits.

The Scottish Farmer:

Highland show winner with her lamb  Ref:EC1701202825...

Eilidh aged 19, is currently a trainee ROV (remotely operated vehicle) tech pilot at Helix Energy Solutions Group, in Dyce, near Aberdeen, one of the first girls to do this demanding job, whilst Erin aged 17, is in her sixth year at high school. With both in full time work or education, the work sometimes relies on mother and father, Diane and Gary, lending a hand to see them past their busy spells.

The Scottish Farmer:

Some of the ewes and gimmers out at grass  Ref:EC1701202826...

The Braemuir flock was established in 2009 after the gift of two in-lamb pedigree gimmers from the girls’ grandfather, Jimmy Wilson, who had a very successful Suffolk flock and later had the Ugie Charolais cattle herd, plus Aberdeen-Angus. The gimmers were both purchased at Lanark market – one came from Sheena Coghill’s Hekra flock, which is based in Orkney, and the other from the late Robert MacInally’s Dykecroft flock, at Lanark. The ewes in the current flock all go back to these bloodlines, showing that they have both bred well for the Duncans.

Mr Wilson is now in ‘semi-retirement’: “Grandpa believed the Charollais were the more up incoming breed at that time. He could see the potential behind them. Along with the great commercial side of things, they are also one of the better breeds for crossing. They are bigger and brighter than any other breed and really stand out well, especially in an inter-breed competition at shows,” said Eilidh.

Erin added: “Lambing that little bit earlier primes them for show season, being that little bit more mature and flashier. They are strong hardy sheep with a good back end and well fleshed throughout. Everyone has their preferences, but we are looking to breed the traditional Charollais, with the white flash around its eyes,” said Erin.

The Scottish Farmer:

Some of the ewes and lambs in the shed  Ref:EC1701202824...

Not only do they have strong show credentials, when it comes down to the proper hard work of lambing, the breed doesn’t seem to disappoint either. “They are an excellent breed for lambing, the lambs will try to get up within 10 minutes to attempt to feed, which you can’t say for all breeds. They are also good mothers, having plenty of milk as well as taking their lambs well,” said Eilidh.

Lambing for the team began in December and finished just last week, everything is done inside due to the weather at this time of year, although after birth they are sent out to the fields. The system works well within their farm, with most having at least twins.

“The weather is never great during the winter, but it is also easier keeping the ewes inside for management purposes, we can keep an eye on things and make sure everything is how it should be, and spot any problems quicker,” added Eilidh.

The Scottish Farmer:

An early lamb out at grass with its mother  Ref:EC1701202827...

The females are fed a few months before lambing, between a combination of – sugarbeet, oat, barley, protein and hay. At birth, the lambs are given iodine and a gut treatment to prevent watery mouth, plus a vaccination against orf.

“We aren’t too bad with infections, we haven’t had any serious hiccups, but we do try our hardest to prevent as much as possible. Rather than culling things, we try to fix them – there would need to be something seriously wrong with it to be culled.

“Since we do have a smaller flock, it is easier for us to manage this and get on to it quicker. We need to be careful with our mortality rate since we don’t have a big flock and we want to keep our stock numbers up,” added Eilidh.

The biggest help this year for the family at lambing time has been the instalment of cameras into the lambing shed. “As well as saving us going out of the house during the night, it has also meant we don’t need to upset the sheep by going through the shed unless we have to … they have been more settled because of that,” said Erin.

The Scottish Farmer:

Some of the ewes and lambs in the shed  Ref:EC1701202823...

When it comes to sale time, the tup lambs usually go to Thainstone in September, with the majority of the females retained for breeding within the flock. Eilidh and Erin have topped the Charollais trade for the past two years at Aberdeen Christmas Classics in November and tend to average between 500 and 600gns with return customers.

The Duncan’s top price is 900gns which was purchased by Myfyr Evans, for his Rhaeadr flock. Whilst their top price to date was a private deal for a ram which was sold to Russell Gray, Leelaw, for 1500gns.

“We work away well at Thainstone and get return customers, we have always thought about going down to Worcester for the main breed sale, but we would need to take a couple of lambs to make it worth the trip for us,” said Eilidh.

On the flip side of the sale ring, Loanhead Single Malt has been the most influential purchase for the girls, having bred a lot of their top prices as well as their Highland show champion. He was bought as a tup lamb again at Worcester for 1000gns and was shared with Sheena Coghill. He put a great stamp on the stock and has since been sold on to get some new blood into the flock.

That is in the shape of Ffrwdr Urbane, the sire of this year’s crop of lambs. He was bought at the main breed sale in Worcester from Dewi Pritchard Evans.

What about flock expansion? With both girls having many commitments outwith their sheep, between work and education, they don’t see themselves expanding any time soon. But that doesn’t mean to say they won’t continue on their winning ways.

“We believe the future of the breed is strong especially for crossing the Charollais with other breeds. There seems to be more people prefer to cross them than keep them pure pedigrees, but there isn’t the same competition there. We think there will always be a need for the Charollais breed in this area,” concluded Eilidh and Erin.

Fact file:

Acres: 400

Stock numbers: 18 ewes

Involved: Mainly Eilidh and Erin along with the help from mother and father, Diane and Gary.

Best return on investment

The Loanhead tup: “We have got the most out of him – having sired both our top price to date and our Highland show champion last year.”

Best advice received

“Just try and see how it goes, you can always change things to make it into perfection,” said Eilidh.

Erin added: “Don’t expect to get everything given to you, you have to work hard to get what you want.”

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

“More Charollais breeders … we need more in Scotland. The lack of breeders doesn’t help the pedigree side of things as there is now only a handful of breeders in Scotland,” said Eilidh.

What are your hobbies?

“Young farmers and sheep,” said the girls.