Maternal breeds and lines are key to the success of any livestock business, and for hill sheep farmer, David Morrison, there is nothing better than the Scotch Blackface.

Renowned for breeding some of the best Blackface rams and females in the business in recent years, David was born into the breed on a farm in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, where his parents, Clark and Louise Morrison – originally from Dungiven – were at the top of their game breeding North-type or Perth-type Blackface sheep.

In a bid to increase the amount of ground they farmed, his parents bought a larger farm at Drumsmodden, in Ayrshire, in 1997, with most of the family then moving across to Scotland, while David's two older sisters, who were already married, stayed in Ireland.

The Scottish Farmer:

Dalwyne was bought in 2007

The 250-acre nearby unit at Barlosh was also purchased where David moved to and which over the years was built up to 700 Scotch Mule and Texel cross ewes, 400 Blackface ewes and a further 100 cross hoggs lambing.

However, the business was split up three years in 2006, allowing David to make the big break into his own type of Blackface sheep. He sold Barlosh in 2007 and the same year bought the 175-acre North Balloch at Barr. However, it was until he was able to buy the 1375-acre hill unit at Dalwyne, a few months later that he was able to follow his dream of breeding Blackface sheep.

"It has always been my ambition to breed some of the best Blackface sheep in the country because there is nothing to beat the Blackie for it's hardiness, maternal characteristics and it's ability to rear two good lambs on poor quality ground," said David.

"Blackface sheep have so much character and are the best breed to work with – they're easy moved in a field or the fank, and they're so motherly. They're so easy to twin, a ewe with a single will easily take a triplet-born lamb provided you catch her just at the lambing."

While the family was very successful breeding north-type Blackface sheep in Ireland, David's passion always lay with the south-type which he was able to pursue further at Dalwyne when he had the scope to increase numbers. Having previously purchased select numbers of females from Blackhouse, Connachan, Dalchirla, Glen, Midlock, Netherwellwood, Nunnerie and Troloss, he immediately set out to acquire top end draft ewes. Hence in 2007, drafts from Dalchirla and Midlock, were bougth along with a few high profile rams at Newton Stewart, Dalmally and Lanark, to include a share of a £14,000 Midlock, and a £9000 Dalchirla and a £3600 Glen.

The Scottish Farmer:

Females bred up from the foundation ewes bought more than 10 years ago

"I look to breed sheep with shape, carcase and good tight coats and sheep with good heads and hair. Blackies don't need to great big sheep, they need to have good coats, shape and a good shoulder – that's what survives out in the hills," said Davie.

It's a breeding policy which is obviously bearing fruit too as since moving to Dalwyne, not only has Davie produced several five-figure priced tup lambs to a top of £50,000 when selling in a three-way split to Midlock, Nunnerie and Dalchirla at Lanark, and £60,000 privately to Blackcraig and Loughash with a half-share retained, but also top end females.

In 2017, Dalwyne also topped the in-lamb female sale at Lanark, selling a gimmer by a home-bred son of a £60,000 Midlock for 7200gns to Auldhouseburn.

Later that year, Davie also produced some of the lead priced ewe lambs at Lanark, selling a pen of two for £950 per head, and just two weeks ago, the flock's best, a pen of six realised £780, with his consignment of 33 cashing in at just shy of £480.

His flock is nevertheless run slightly differently to most hill farms, having three separate units – a stud flock of 300 ewes, comprising the best females for breeding tup lambs for selling and using on the other two flocks and home-bred replacement females. While the best of the ewe lambs from this flock are retained the next best are kept for the ewe lamb flock of 200 breeding ewes of which the top female progeny is sold at Lawrie and Symington's breed sale at Lanark with the next best 120 ewe lambs selling privately to Alwyn McFarlane.

The hill flock of 500 breeding ewes is run more commercially with the best ewe lambs kept for breeding, while the remainder are sold straight off their mothers through Craig Wilson, in August which this year saw 32-36kg lambs sell at 190p per live kg.

Lambing percentages are pretty impressive too with the top two flocks, which are tupped and lambed in fields, producing scanning figures of 175-180%. The hill flock which lambs slightly later from the middle of April onwards, produces crops of 120-125% with little if any feeding, with multiples lambed in the fields, and single bearing ewes, in hill parks.

David also flushes a few of his top end females and AI's about 100 ewes every year, through Ovibreed, to help increase the rate of genetic improvement in the flock.

"I'm not really a fan of AI'ing as you can end up with too many of your best ewes yeld or lambing very late and flushing doesn't always work out that well either, but it can help improve your females," he said, adding that such ewes are lambed inside for ease of management when they lamb within a matter of days.

The Scottish Farmer:

Only the best are AI'd and on a select few are flushed

"Most years we would flush six-eight or our best ewes, but we also had two gimmers in the batch last year and overall we had 51 embryos and 45 pregnancies with six ET tup lambs in the sale lot," he said.

One of his best females, Bang Tidy, a former top show winner by a £5000 Gass, also has nine ET daughters in the flock by the £22,000 Dalchirla and has also bred sons to £2200. She is also the dam of one of this year's shearling rams for the breed sale which would normally be at Newton Stewart, but this year is Craig Wilson's larger Ayr market, to allow for social distancing.

However, David is also the first to admit, flushing is not always successful and there can be a lot of heartache if top breeding females produce only a handful of embryos, or worse still, nothing.

Relying on home-bred rams for breeding has also helped produce more uniform, breedie sheep in demand with the Buffalo – the home-bred £60,000 tup lamb of which a half-share was retained, and the Badger, a home-bred son of £50,000 Dalwyne, having bred numerous top end females and tup lambs.

"The Buffalo is one of the best breeding tups we have used, with his females maturing into really good ewes, but £22,000 Dalchirla daughters are probably the best females I have ever worked with. They're just so smart, sharp, breedie and they've got great hair. I always reckon that if you can breed the females, the tups will come themselves."

Dalwyne is already breeding a few of these too, and this year David and Andrew McMillan – who came to work with the sheep, straight from school, in 2016 – have 12 tup lambs for sale through Newton Stewart, Lanark and Dalmally, which this year will be staged at United Auctions' bigger Stirling Centre, the day after Lanark, on Saturday, October 24, again to allow for social distancing.

The Scottish Farmer:

Tup lambs for sale at Newton Stewart, Dalmally and Lanark

Most of these are sired by last year's £38,000 Crossflatt tup lamb bought in partnership with Crammie and Lurgan; the £22,000 Dalchirla bought three years ago at Dalmally in partnership with Lurg, and there is also three by the £160,000 Dalchirla.

Other sires that have made their mark in the past include a £60,000 Midlock; £52,000 Crossflatt; £5500 Gass; £13,000 Elmscleugh; £14,000 Elmscleugh (3D); with some of better female breeders including an £8000 Auchloy; £32,000 Crossflatt; £10,000 Hartside and a £250 Pole.

The shearlings which this year will be sold at Ayr and Stirling, are mostly by £22,000 Dalchirla, and home-bred sons of his, with the best, by a £6500 Gass, destined for Ayr. Draft ewes are sold privately.

Needless to say, it is a particularly busy time for both David and Andrew, but it is one which both look forward to every year, albeit with some trepidation when it comes to the actual sale ring.

They've had a bit more of that in recent years too with the introduction of a 35-ewe pedigree Texel flock, established in 2016, which last year produced gimmer sales of up to 4500gns at United Auctions, Stirling, and a tup lamb selling at 6200gns at Lanark, last month.

The Scottish Farmer:

Kerry Hills have made a huge impression at Dalwyne

David's also been splashing the cash on other maternal breeds over the past couple of years and is now the proud owner of 40 pure-bred Kerry Hill sheep and 12 Longhorns.

"I just love sheep and Kerry Hills are really smart sheep with great carcases. They are absolutely fantastic mothers too and will produce the same lambing percentages as the Blackies," said David who bought his foundation females locally and south of the Border, privately.

The Longhorns were bought for having much the same characteristics.

"We needed some sort of cattle for grassland management but they had to have a good temperament so we bought a mixture of 12 in-calf Longhorn cows, heifers and bulling heifers privately from a farm in Cheshire and they have been brilliant. They are unbelievably quiet – a heifer has stood in the field and let me help her calve suckle. A day later, she just stood and watched while I tagged her calf."

FARM facts:

* Farm size: Dalwyne was 1350acres of mostly hill ground rising to 1400ft above sea-level with 175-acres of in-bye ground. Some 550acres hill ground was sold in 2018 to allow for the purchase of 55 acres of good grazing ground at Minishant which had been rented for 16 years.

* Livestock: Three different flocks Blackface ewes: 300 stud ewes; 200 ewes for breeding top end Blackface ewe lambs and 500 hill ewes. Also 35 pedigree Texels; 40 pedigree Kerry Hill ewes and 15 Longhorn cattle.

* Lambing: February through to the middle of May.

* Showing: A big part of the David's flock promotion having secured major awards at local events and breed stockjudging competitions and a huge miss this year with Covid-19.

The Scottish Farmer:

New to the farm this year are these Longhorns which are proving to be great quiet, milky females

ONTHE spot:

* Best investment:? "The quick decision to buy Dalwyne. I viewed it on the Wednesday afternoon and bought it on the Thursday morning! Initially I thought, what have I done? but, I haven't look back since."

* Biggest achievement:? "Breeding the Buffalo. I knew he was special when he was born but for breeders actually put in offers to buy him privately, just absolutely blew me away."

* Best advice:? "There are two close calls here: The first has to be Dad drumming into me not to buy a tup with a bad shoulder and the second is father Willie Dunlop from Elmscleugh who said to me when I moved to Dalwyne, that I'd have to give tups away before you can sell them…This has stuck in my head big time as there's nothing better than selling a cheap tup that goes on and breeds a bomb with the buyer. You just have to hope that the guy comes back and is willing to spend a wee bit more the next time!"

* Where would you like to be in 2030:? "Hopefully am still farming at Dalwyne and selling draft ewes."

* Worst impact of Covid-19:? "No shows…Personally I haven’t missed the work getting sheep ready for them, but I missed the banter and craic with folk especially at the Highland… There are some folk you only see at the Highland Show, but to be able to have a dram with them and put the sheep world to rights gives your morale a real boost. This year it has been nothing but work, work, work."