Turning out various breeds of champion-winning stock is the name of the game for renowned stockman, Norman Douglas.

He spoke with The Scottish Farmer about his successful career in the world of pedigree sheep breeding.


I was born and brought up on our tenant farm Catslackburn on Buccleuch Estates where our family have resided since my grandfather took on the tenancy, back in 1894. My father died when I was only five-years-old and so my mother continued to farm until I was old enough to take over, at the age of 20.

Seven years later I took on the role of farm manager at Wemyss Estate. I managed a massive unit comprised of 10,000 breeding ewes, spread over Selkirkshire, Peeblesshire and East Lothian and oversaw the building of the Megget reservoir and the establishment of a 250-strong beef herd. I remained in that position for 27 years, before leaving to expand my own unit – which I was still running at the same time.

I began to concentrate on my other love which was rugby, where I played for my local club Selkirk before getting involved in the Scottish Rugby Union, representing all the Border clubs. I was appointed as a director of the European Rugby Cup, based in Dublin and also the six nations. I was also chairman of the Borders and Edinburgh professionals. Being involved in the rugby side of my life allowed my son David, the breathing space to farm and make his own decisions at home.

Then after 50 years of farming, I finally got the opportunity in 2016 to purchase three units from Buccleuch estates – Catslackburn, Whitehope and Townhead, totalling some 2200 acres, which I now farm alongside David. We also got the opportunity to take over a neighbouring North Country Cheviot flock, in 2006, and improvements in that have allowed us to show the breed at various shows.

After rugby, the opportunity arose to be a fieldsman for C and D Auctions Marts at Longtown and Dumfries. That also allowed David do the day-to-day running of the farm at a young age. I enjoy my work at the market and being able to see the improvements being made in the livestock industry through the markets.

What got you into showing livestock in the first place?

Having to take over the tenancy of our farm at a young age and being put onto local show committees encouraged me to support my local shows by showing livestock and I was also keen in dressing sheep and cattle. It was a natural progression and I always found attending our local shows an enjoyable day out, especially since I came from a nice part of the country, surrounded by farms that were renowned for good stock.

What qualities do you like about the breeds that you work with over others?

The breeds complimented the farms that we are on and I’ve always strived to ensure that we are breeding top quality females, as they play a huge part in any livestock business. If you get your females right, the males will follow.

I like the North Country and South Country Cheviot’s as they are very similar but also totally different in character. We run around 900 of each and there’s no way that we would ever cross them.

What was your first Royal Highland Show?

For 20 years I was involved in the sheep shearing section at the Highland Show and it was not until 17 years ago, when David was running the sheep flocks that we started showing . Showing at the Highland takes a week out of the working calendar, however I appreciate that it’s also a shop window to the public.

We chose to show the South Country as numbers were dwindling and we wanted to promote the breed.

Which was the best animal that you’ve ever shown?

The South Country Cheviot ewe, Catslackburn Duchess, won the inter-breed title and Champion of Champions at the Border Union Bi-centenary show, in 2013. She was a natural show ewe and knew she was special – she could just about show herself.

Another would be Whitehope Princess, a North Country Cheviot ewe that won the inter-breed title at Wooler, in 2017, before going on to win inter-breed at the Border Union Show, in 2019.

But what was the best animal that you’d ever seen?

I especially like The Scottish Farmer’s Champion of the Decade sheep champion, the 2010 park-type winner, Hownam Grange Fantastic. She was an outstanding animal and very eye catching for her type and she knew she was special.

You’re most abiding memory?

Probably in 1996 when I sold the first ever five figure South Country Cheviot tup, Catslack 101, for £10,000 at Lockerbie ram sales. That was a lot of money back then and the following year I sold a son for £11,000.

Biggest disappointment in your career?

I don’t have many disappointments however I would say not having the opportunity to buy our farms earlier in life. I’m very fortunate to get the opportunity when I did – I just wish I got it earlier.

Most influential person in your career?

My late mother, Mary, as she was the strongest person I knew. She was widowed twice and raised six children, as well as keeping the farm going with the help of her family.

What’s been your favourite show over the years and why?

From a fun point of view, our local Yarrow Show, as the stock is fantastic and it’s a totally different atmosphere to the big shows. There is friendly rivalry before and after.

Your choice of best stockman ever?

There’s been an awful lot over the years and a lot of able young men and women around who are taking things to a different level. One that I would have to mention is Ian Hunter, of Dalchirla, as he is a person who has been at the top for a long time and doing so under difficult circumstances, he has contributed a lot to improve the Blackface breed over the years, and has got a different view and type of his own.

Best and worse advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I’ve received was in the early days when David Benson said “Never forget that your bank manager is working for you and not the other way about!

You can be given a lot of advice which if you think is bad, forget it.

Biggest showing achievement?

Winning champion of champions at the Border Union Show. It’s one thing to be the best sheep in your breed on that day but to be the best animal overall in a champion of champions, taking everything at the show and securing the title over cattle and horses is a huge achievement.

Best kist party you’ve attended?

I don’t attend many kist parties, I prefer going into a local hotel and having a meal and drinks with friends after a show or sale. Around 20 years ago, the late Jim Sharp judged at Dumfries, Billy Renwick was away judging at Duns Show and I had been judging Perth Show and on our route home we all by chance met at my local hotel, the Gordon Arms, for a meal and it was nice to be able to gather and discuss every sheep from Perthshire to the south of Scotland.

Any hobbies or interests out with farming?

My main hobby was rugby however not so much now due to Covid-19. I spend a lot of my spare time with my grandchildren now, as well as working. I’ve always been fortunate enough to have my hobby as a job and every day is different and brings a new challenge with it.

It must be terrible for people to go to a job every day that they don’t enjoy!

What’s the future of the show circuit?

I worry that the smaller shows will struggle as there's not the number of staff employed on farms to allow the time to show livestock. I am fortunate having David and his team who are all committed to putting in the extra hours – it’s like a second job preparing for a show these days. Much of our recent success is down to their dedication.

It will take an extra effort to get all our shows up and running next year but I sincerely hope people will support them.