Ease of management and profitability is the name of the game for the Whiteford family, based at Hilltarvit Mains.

That’s where second-generation farmer, Ian, has had years of experience working with Mule ewes, having grown up with this well-known cross-bred on the family farm at Cupar.

In 1947, Ian’s father, John, took on the tenancy of Hilltarvit before buying the farm in 1958. Ian has farmed there since 1980 in partnership with his wife, Margaret, but now also son, John, and daughter-in-law Lucy.

The family extended the arable and mixed livestock enterprise in 2015 by purchasing neighbouring farmland, with the acreage now totalling some 1300 acres, split between rotational and permanent pasture, as well cereal cropping to include winter wheat, winter and spring barley and oilseed rape.

While the arable enterprise takes up the bulk of the work at Hilltarvit Mains, the farm is also home to 200 suckler cows, as well as a flock of 500 North of England Mules.

“The sheep had to fit into the existing farm system, to utilise the permanent pasture we had whilst also allowing us to run a clean grazing system with both the cattle and the sheep. Part of the permanent grazing on the farm includes the local Fife showground, land following environmental schemes and seasonal use of EFA land,” explained Ian.

“The North of England Mule is the ultimate breed for us. They make great mothers, whilst being both milky and very prolific – we expect to see scanning percentages of 220% in the ewes and 190% in the gimmers.

“I would say the only downside to the cross-bred is that they haven’t got the best conformation, but that is rectified in our choice of tup,” he added.

When it comes to choosing a terminal sire, the Whiteford family rely on Texel genetics to help produce sizeable, quality lambs with good carcase conformation.

Ian purchases his Texels as shearlings in early September at the McGowan family’s annual sale, based at Incheoch, near Blairgowrie, Perthshire, where they are known to produce quality naturally reared Texel and Lleyn rams.

“When purchasing a stock ram I’m looking for a shearling with good conformation and one that will produce growthy lambs. We are running around 10 tups every year with the ewes, so I buy two rams each year as replacements,” Ian said.

He also buys in 100 replacement females from the same farm located in the North of England, each year and has done so for the past 30 years – ensuring disease risk is kept at a minimum.

“We have a high replacement rate because the ewes at home work very hard, with lots rearing triplets each year so we want to ensure we have a constant flow of younger stock coming in behind them,” he commented.

“We look to buy females that will grow into big sheep and will cope on the better grass we have here at Hilltarvit.”

In October, ewes are moved onto better pasture in preparation for tupping, which lasts six weeks. After scanning in January, ewes are in-wintered throughout February in a grain shed adapted for the purpose and into March, where lambing kicks off indoors on March 25.

“We have increased flock numbers slightly over the past three years and with the majority of the ewes lambing indoors in limited space, we now lamb 130 of the best twin-bearing ewes outside in smaller paddocks,” Ian stated.

All ewes, both inside and outside, are fed the same diet throughout lambing, which consists of homegrown cereal mix with minerals and protein in the form of soya and beet pulp, plus silage.”

With the Mule renowned for her fertility and prolificacy, high scanning percentages and a large number of triplets are pretty much the norm at Hilltarvit, each year.

“We usually leave a set of triplets with the ewe if she is strong enough to rear them herself herself but otherwise we would lift one,” Ian commented.

“We had 60 pet lambs on the automatic feeder this year and contrary to what people may think, our rearing costs sat at £34 per lamb for milk powder and lamb pellets.

“My wife, Margaret, is in charge of the pet lambs and she does a brilliant job each year, whilst Lucy and I are responsible for the rest of the lambing jobs,” he added.

“Lambing in March is the best time for us as it usually draws to a close just before our spring-calving cows start in mid-April.”

Once the intensive lambing period comes to an end, Ian added that the sheep have to be as low maintenance as possible throughout the summer months to allow the family to focus on other jobs associated with cropping.

Lambs are weaned mid-August and from October through to the following March, all sold straight off grass finished through the live ring at Caledonian Marts, in Stirling. The bulk of the prime lambs are sold in December and January in large batches with prices typically ranging from £81 to £120 per lamb, with last year’s average price coming in at £96.

“We hope to sell around 1000 lambs per year, aiming as close to 50kg as possible and preferably all away before lambing kicks off again in March,” Ian stated.

“Any lambs that we have left from late November onwards are moved onto stubble turnips, which are sown after the winter barley. This really boosts weight gain and lambs also receive whole oats and bruised barley until they hit the ideal weight,” he explained.

With an eye and attention for detail, the Whiteford family was recognised for their hard work after their farm was selected as a finalist in the AgriScot Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year, in 2017.

“I was encouraged by the chairman of AgriScot at the time to enter the competition. The whole family was surprised but delighted to be chosen as a finalist for the prestigious award,” said Ian.

As well as helping to run a busy family farm, Ian also finds the time to stand as the Scottish representative for the British Grassland Council and is responsible for representing the three individual Scottish societies.

“I attend farm visits and lots of meetings which are focused around intensive grazing and efficient use of grassland, on both hill and lowland farms,” Ian commented.

“This has really helped me with the management of our own enterprise, allowing animals to utilise the grass as best as possible and it is very educational to see how others run their flock systems.”

Looking to the future and commenting on the issue of Brexit and the importation of food, Ian concluded: “I don’t agree with the importing of food – economics can’t stand up when we are producing the best locally produced beef and lamb available.

“Brexit may make huge difference to what we do and I’m conscious that our existing system may need to change but, in the long run, I am happy in the knowledge that we are doing our best and I’m not too worried about our future in farming.”


  • Family farm: Farming at Hilltarvit Mains since 1947, with Ian and his family taking over the business in 1980.
  • Livestock: 200 suckler cattle and 500 North of England Mules.
  • Mixed farm: Totalling 1300 acres, comprising 300 acres of permanent pasture, 190 acres of rotational pasture with the rest cropping to include winter wheat, winter and spring barley and OSR. The family own 600 acres and a further 700 acres to rent/contract farmed, with Hilltarvit Mains being the base.
  • Topography: Rises from 500ft to 700ft above sea level.
  • Previous success: One of three finalists for the Agriscot Sheep Farm of the Year Award, in 2017.


  1. Best advice – "This was the view of my late father, 'Always farm the land to ensure that the fertility improves year on year.'"
  2. Worst advice – "In the late 1970's, we used AI on some of our suckler cows. We were advised to use a particular Charolais bull who's name included 'Jack'. He was soon given the nickname of 'Calving Jack'!
  3. Best family holiday – "We have some very happy memories spent in Moniaive, down in Dumfries and Galloway."
  4. Hobbies – "One hobby that I enjoy is curling and I also like to play a bit of golf too."