It takes a brave man to convert a lucrative pedigree enterprise into one solely reliant on commercial livestock, but it has certainly proved a worthwhile exercise for Borders' farmer, Jim Logan, who in the space of just five years has increased productivity by almost 50%.

Ten years ago, Jim's Pirntaton flock from Galashiels, was regularly producing top end Texel and Suffolk shearling rams at the Kelso Ram Sales, and in turn the highest flock averages for some of the biggest numbers sold. Similarly, he had produced some of the top priced lambs and highest flock averages at the second sale of Blackface rams at Lanark.

Bulls from his Galawater pedigree Aberdeen-Angus herd proved popular too, with several attracting five-figure prices at the Stirling Bull Sales.

However, when all his potential sale tup hoggs were hit by CLA in 2013 and Johnes had reared its head amongst the cattle, Jim began to realise just how much time these top end animals took to prepare and what their loss cost the business.

"We missed a whole year selling tups because of CLA, so we had a year where we didn't have to feed or dress sheep for sales and it gave us time to think. It made me realise just how much time we spent on them and how dependant we had become on a big income from these top 100 animals instead of concentrating on the whole farm," said Jim, who farms with his mother, Liz, wife Jane and their young family of James (19) who is studying agriculture at Harper Adams, and Beth (18), who is looking to a career in agribusiness and will be going to university, after the summer.

With the extra time available, Jim looked into breeds of sheep, traits and specific types that would be most suited to an easier lower input livestock system at Pirntaton – a 1550-acre upland unit rising to 1700ft above sea-level, which can suffer from hard frosts, snow and late springs.

"Before we were lambing most of the sheep indoors in March, April, which was very labour intensive and costly, and I wanted a system, that would be easier managed, with sheep lambed outdoors – productive, robust, easy-care types of sheep that required little intervention and minimum inputs."

Initially, he looked at New Zealand systems, and through the internet, discovered Derek Daniells' noted Wairere ram breeding flock which is based on Romney sheep.

Most of the kiwi flock is based on composites of this maternal forager which can be intensively farmed and is renowned for being hardy whilst requiring minimum inputs. The Romney is also well known for its sound feet with good resistance to disease and worms.

Jim also visited Chris and Caroline Hodgkins' UK Wairere-based Romney sheep breeding business in West Sussex, which in turn is now the source of his Romney rams.

"Romneys are a real maternal breed that hold their condition but also flesh up well after a hard winter. They're easy lambed, prolific and deep bodied making them ideal for utilising all types of forages."

Tupping has also been held back almost a month so lambing ties in more with the onset of grass growth at Pirntaton with the first Romney rams put out with the farm's home-bred Mules and Texel cross Mules at the end of 2013, for their first outdoor lambing at the end of April 2014.

Add in some finer boned, easier lambed Texel and Suffolk rams and a few Lleyn tups to criss cross back and forth over Romney cross ewes and Jim now has a much more productive, easier managed, low cost breeding female that can be heavier stocked and still produce some cracking lambs.

"We now have a closed flock of 1900 ewes – 500 more than we used to have – of which 160 are stud Suffolks and Texel composites that still generally lamb inside at the beginning of April but which might move to outdoor lambing along with the others. The remainder, made up of Romney, Lleyn and Texel cross ewes, which are crossed back and forth, lamb outside at the end of April and into May," said Jim whose farming policy has won some notable awards in recent years.

"We breed most of our own stock rams with extras bought privately from known flocks."

Lambing percentages are pretty impressive for the time of year, with ewes scanning out at 190% and gimmers at 170-180%. Jim also lambed some of the bigger ewe hoggs to a Roussin this year, which came in at just below 100%.

Notably, virtually all lambs, outwith those retained for breeding, are finished off grass and with 95% of them grading Us and Rs. And, while not all can be finished, up to 90% are sold by the end of November, with the remainder cashed as forward stores or light lambs off some creep feed, by mid December.

The dry weather this year has nevertheless led to a change of policy with terminal, triplet and hogg lambs being offered creep feed from six weeks of age.

Out with the stud flock which runs separately, the commercial ewes are split in two units of which, the main group, which is made up of two-thirds of the females, requires little if any assistance, and are used to breed replacements and additional females to sell.

The remainder, or B mob, comprises ewes that may lose condition easier, have a tendency to go lame, needed assistance at lambing, or perhaps produced lambs that required suckling. These ewes are all put to a Suffolk ram with all progeny finished to ensure that those problematic breeding traits from the mothers are killed out.

With the genetics in hand, Jim has also improved his overall management for reduced reliance on concentrates by lambing at a time of year when grass is growing, introducing rotational grazing and relying more on forage crops during the winter. In doing so, not only has he been able to reduce costs of production, productivity has also increased significantly.

Previously, Pirntaton was home to 1400 breeding ewes and 100 pedigree Aberdeen Angus cows, whereas now that figure has increased to 1900 ewes, a similar number of cattle, and an additional 320 hinds in a new deer farming venture.

"We are saving at least 100 tonnes of concentrates compared to what we used to have to buy in for 1400 ewes. Last year we only used about four or five tonnes of feeding for our triplet-bearing ewes and hoggs carrying twins pre-lambing. We also still train all our ewe hoggs to eat just in case we get a hard winter," said Jim.

Notably, virtually all lamb outside too, including triplet-bearing ewes, although depending on the weather, some can be brought inside at nights.

"We could never increase flock numbers before when we were lambing in April because it would have cost so much in hard feeding to keep the ewes going. Instead, we've found that by lambing a month later, when the grass starts growing here, we have the forage to feed ewes instead of having to rely on concentrates. Lambing later and having root crops and silage for our ewes to feed on during the winter also gives the fields a break and allows the grass to grow better in the spring.

"When we were set-stocked, grass always seemed to take a long time to come away in the spring and the grass appeared tired all the time. But, if grass gets a longer rest of two or three weeks or more, it seems to have more energy reserves to grow faster when it does get a break."

He added: "Before we introduced rotational grazing, we were reseeding fields every five or six years, but with rotational grazing, we've found that grass is better utilised, there is less wastage and it grows quicker when it gets a break. Now we find our young grass lasts 10plus years before we have to reseed."

Prior to the introduction of rotational grazing, Pirntaton comprised of 30 fields or parcels of ground, but over the past five years that has been increased to 124 at a price of £30 per acre for water and electric fencing.

And while, much the same amount of artificial fertiliser is bought as before, most is applied late summer, to encourage grass growth longer into late autumn, early winter when stock numbers can still be high and for flushing ewes.

The business has also been growing more kale, fodder beet and swedes to feed ewes during the winter along with silage, which Jim believes if a more natural feed compared to concentrates. Add in lambing when more grass is available and incidences of twin-lamb disease have become virtually non-existent. Cases of mastitis, lameness and prolapse have been much reduced through selective breeding.

In-lamb females are nevertheless taken off root crops and silage a month before lambing to enable them to adapt to the change in diet before lambing. It's at this time that ewes carrying triplets and hoggs bearing twins are introduced to concentrates too.

But while rotational grazing is proving to be an amazing tool to increase grass growth, sheep are set stocked at lambing to reduce the amount of stress and disruption.

"Lambs do better at a young age if they are set stocked, but as they get older, and start competing with their mothers for the best grass, it is very much a balancing act when you move from set stocking to rotational grazing. Much is dependant on the weather, how much grass you have and are likely to need," Jim said adding that grass is measured every two weeks during the spring and summer, but only once a month to six weeks in late autumn, winter.

"We were getting really dry about six weeks ago and had all our ewes and lambs on a rotational grazing system earlier because it encourages grass growth, but it also means you have to be on the ball more than ever as it can exaggerate some diseases."

This year, Jim has groups of up to 250 ewes and lambs running in one group, which can be moved every two to three days onto fresh pasture depending on grass growth, but later in the year, when ewes are speaned he can have up to 1400 running in the one batch.

Despite the increased intensity, Jim also believes overall flock health has never been better. Lambs are not scratched for orf or vaccinated for any of the clostridial diseases. Instead, breeding females are on Heptavac P system and drenched for fluke two or three times a year. Lambs are dozed for worms at marking time and at weaning, leaving anywhere from 10-30% undrenched to help prevent resistance.

In contrast to most sheep farming operations, adult sheep in good condition are not wormed. Instead, adult sheep, like the cattle follow speaned lambs in all grazing systems, ensuring youngstock always has the cleanest pasture to graze.

But while some traditional vet and meds have been omitted, Jim does rely more on vitamins and minerals when the farm is low in both selenium and cobalt. Hence all lambs are bolused pre weaning and ewes are bolused twice a year.

He's not given up selling breeding rams or females entirely either, with around 60 grassfed, undressed Texel and Suffolk shearling rams sold privately off farm this year alongside ewe lambs/gimmers from the main flock.

There is a strict no foot-trimming policy at Pirntaton and lameness has become far less of an issue as any stock rams with poor foot structure and prone to repeated lameness are culled.

Outwith the sheep enterprise, which Jim believes is in a far healthier position now, the farm is also home to 100 Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and Stabiliser cross cows, which are now criss crossed back and forth between the three breeds.

"Natives always do well on grass and we are looking for a smaller, 650-700kg cow that can be calved outside and will produce calves that are easier fleshed and finished off forages."

Heifers join the main herd at two years of age calving in May/June alongside the remainder of the herd, with the progeny in-wintered and sold after a second summer at grass. Most of these are cashed as forward stores from farm to farm weighing in excess of 500kg at 16 months, but there are a handful of steers sold finished purely off grass at 300-320kg deadweight.

While Jim is happy with the performance of his sheep enterprise, he admits work still has to be done on the management of the cattle to bolster margins and hopes to mimic the changes made to the sheep and to perhaps return to selling breeding bulls.It is his new venture into deer farming, that excites him most though.

"Deer farming has the biggest potential as the labour, maintenance and feed costs are so low. Once you've bought your foundation stock and have the infrastructure in place, you're pretty much there, and, the demand for venison is growing steadily.

"The biggest job with deer farming is taking the antlers off every year, but after that, they more or less manage themselves as they don't have the health issues. Their metabolism slows right down during the winter time too, so they don't have the same feed requirements compared to sheep or cattle.

"What's not to like about deer – they don't get pneumonia, don't need the same feeding, they're born with a short tail and don’t need shorn" laughed Jim.

Over the first three years, 290 hinds were purchased, mostly from Ali Loder, Strathdon, with stags bought from Ali, Woburn and Joe Mallinson. Last year some 320 were rutted and this year the intention is to have 350.

Calved mid May, into June, on the highest ground at Pirntaton and when the grass is at it's highest for cover, calves are speaned in early December and inwintered on round bale silage and up to a kg of cattle blend.

They are finished the following summer at 15-16-months of age, at 72-75kg carcase weight.

There is no doubt, diversifying into new breeds and types of sheep and cattle, and introducing a new enterprise, is a huge challenge for anyone when they've been reliant on pedigree stock for long enough, but you can understand why such changes have been made when the highs and lows of pure-bred breeding are phenomenal.

And, while Jim is the first to admit he misses the rollercoaster ride of pedigree breeding immensely, he has a new challenge and one which revolves around growing home-grown grass instead of buying in expensive concentrates and genetics.


Pirntaton: Family business made up of Liz Logan, son Jim, his wife Jane and family James (19) and Beth (18).

Farm size: 630ha made up of 340ha grassland; 50ha, swedes, kale and fodder beet; 70ha hill ground and 70ha reclaimed hill ground and 100ha of forestry.

Grassland management: Set stocking at lambing time and rotational thereafter with older stock always following young stock.

Stock numbers: 1900 breeding ewes made up of 160 stud Texel and Suffolk ewes with the remainder being Romney, Lleyn, Texel crosses. Commercials run in two groups with largest batch requiring minimum attention and used to breed home-bred replacements while the remainder are all tupped with a terminal sire and finished off grass.

Cattle numbers: 100 suckler cows with progeny either finished off forages or sold from farm to farm as forward stores.

New venture: Deer farming with 320 hinds and progeny finished at 15-16months of age.

Staff: Tractor and cattleman, Stuart Mann and Shane Magill, a Harper Adams sandwich year student. James and Beth work on the farm during their holidays. Facebook-Pirntaton Farm Twitter-@pirntatonjim


Best advice? "It’s close between Gran telling me not to eat too much hot rhubarb and Kiwi consultant, Murray Rolloff suggesting that there was potential to up our production by the equivalent of buying a neighbouring farm simply by sub-division and rotational grazing."

Best investment? "Following the above; lots of electric fences and water troughs."

Where do you want to be in 2030? "Phoning home from our Aston Martin as we drive through the Swiss Alps."

How has Coronavirus affected the working of your business? "It has flagged up the importance of well functioning supply chains."

Biggest threat to agriculture in Scotland? "Disconnection on many levels including consumers, supply chains and politicians."