One of the first commercial sheep scanners in the UK, Euan McMillan, Traquair Hill, Innerleithen, is hanging up his boots after almost 40 years in the business.

Scanning was introduced in Britain in 1983 when Euan was one of only five to develop it into a viable business. In his heyday, he was scanning in excess of 70,000 head per year, but as the years have progressed, he has cut back and now concentrates on his own sheep and those of a few neighbours.

Originally from Fife, Euan and his wife, Meg, moved down to Innerleithen 53 years ago to take over the beef and sheep farm at Orchard Mains and it was another 16 years later before he introduced sheep scanning to his already busy year.

He first became aware of the potential for the practice at a sheep scanning demonstration at a farm near Peebles undertaken by Angus Russell, from the Hill Farming Research Organisation and college advisor, Bill Rutter, who ran the sheep group at SRUC. There was only a handful of people at the event, but being a farmer himself, Euan could see the benefits of scanning and was keen to get involved.

“I knew at that time pregnancy scanning sheep would be a winner if I could perfect the art," said Euan. Adding that January and February, when most sheep are scanned were always quieter times on the farm and he needed a hobby to pursue.

The only thing stopping him at this point was the price as to buy the linear scanner was £7000, which in those days was, and still is, a lot of money.

“I had to take the gamble, it was a big investment, but I knew the job would pay off,” added Euan.

It did too, as within the first year, he had scanned enough sheep to pay off the machine, although it did take time to get people on side and prove the value of the operation.

“People were wary to begin with, but once they tried it and realised the benefits of scanning, most people jumped on board. I don’t think there will be many sheep that don’t get scanned now,” he said.

With few scanners in the trade in the early days, Euan is self-taught, having practised on his own sheep two or three times initially to improve accuracy and confidence before scanning other people's sheep.

“To start with it was always about accuracy, not the time it took, I knew I had to get it right,” said Euan.

Such was his enthusiasm and ability, that his career soon took off with customers queueing up to have their sheep PD scanned. At the peak of Euan's career, he was scanning 70,000 a year, although he did eventually forward custom to other scanners.

“I never dropped anyone, but it was not always feasible for me to travel all over the country and I always made sure there was someone else to scan their sheep,” said Euan.

In the early years, he covered all areas in the south of Scotland but that mileage has since been dramatically curtailed to a 20-30mile radius of home.

Initially it was a linear scanner that was used, which looked straight into the sheep, and required lifting sheep into the right position, which needless to say involved a lot of physical work.

The sector scanner, which was introduced in 1986 and is still used to the present day, is a lot easier on the operator and the sheep, as individual animals can walk through a crate to be scanned. This new machine is less labour intensive and enabled double the numbers to be scanned in an hour. It was also easier on the sheep when they were heavy in lamb.

While the scanning equipment has changed over the years, so too has the time of individual farmers.

“I have always been a sociable scanner, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the farmers I worked with. It was a great job, because I also got a chance to look at some of their stock.

“Now, things have changed. People don't have time and basically want the job done as quickly as possible so that they can get on with sorting out their sheep,” said Euan.

As a full-time farmer, Euan's hands were always tied when it came to diversifying his scanning business further, although he did also scan a few dogs

Not only did he master the trade of scanning, he also encouraged others to try their hand at numerous demonstrations.

“Scanning is hard to teach,” said Euan who has been heavily involved in teaching at the Bush, Edinburgh University and various one to one lessons in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the Isle of Man.

“I got a kick out of teaching, it felt good to be able to pass on my knowledge and watch people learn. It also allowed me to retire,” joked Euan.

Farm facts:

Farming: 1000 acres run at Orchard Mains

Livestock numbers: 75 Limousin cross cows which are bulled with a black homozygous Limousin bull and 800 ewes – we have cut back a lot recently since I am meant to be retired…

Farm team: Euan with full-time stockman, David McNeillie.

Farm established: 1967, 53 years ago now, I am in the twilight of my career!!

On the spot:

Best investment: “Other than my wife, it has got to be my scanner. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it, it was money well spent.”

Hobbies: “I used to enjoy playing golf, but I have too many aches and pains nowadays, work has always come first and I love spending time with family.”

Best advice: Enjoy what you do and do it to the best of your ability. Although I am not the best person at listening to advice…

Biggest achievement: I am most proud of my family and being able to still work and run a farm at the age I am, have got to be the biggest things, I am very lucky, health is everything. Farming wise, it has to be selling two Blackface tup lambs for £12,000 and £13,000 as well as Scotch Mule ewe lambs at St Boswells, Hawick and Peebles in the past.

If you could change one thing: My golf handicap. I also wish I had been bigger so that maybe I could have played rugby for Scotland, just like my daughter in-law!!