THIS week we have a slight change to this popular feature – Breeders of our Time will now alternate with Stockmen of our Time.

Morag Cockburn is first up for the 'Breeders':


I was brought up at Cloverhill by my parents with my two sisters and brother and I helped dad around the farm from an early age. I have never really wanted to do anything else.

I used to come home from school to chop and feed turnips for the suckled calves in winter, although the Easter holidays and lambing time was always my favourite time of year as a child.

We had pure Blackies at Cloverhill, half of which were crossed to produce Scotch Mule ewe lambs. I enjoyed helping to bring them out for Lanark. We also had a heft of Cheviots which were dad’s pride and joy. Many a summer’s night was spent prepping them for local shows.

How did you get into breeding Cheviots?

In 1987, I left Auchincruive to come home to work and my parents bought Stirkfield around the same time. David Jappy was the shepherd at that time and I was sent up to help at all the gatherings and I really enjoyed it all. My favourite job was drawing the stock hoggs and still is to this day.

The Cheviots were crossed out at Cloverhill to make way for more Blackies – white-faced sheep were a bad word at that time... how times change!

I moved up to Stirkfield late 1996 where there are no cattle sheds and for the first time in my life, I missed feeding cows. Perhaps that’s why it’s called Stirkfield!

What qualities about the Cheviot do you like?

Stirkfield ewes were always genuine, hardy hill sheep. Many people thought we would change them for Blackies in the early 1990s but they were doing grand and I was already hooked on their character.

They have the best conformation out of all the hill breeds, are able to raise a lamb on the hill with minimal input or, with a bit better treatment in the fields, they can be very prolific – it’s all in the management.

Your first big breed sale?

I think that has to be Lockerbie Ram Sale, in 1998. Ian Henderson made our shearling the pre-sale champion. I was over the moon but we were late in the sale, tups in general weren’t a great trade that day and I was so nervous for the rest of the day before we sold him.

He made £3800 to Becks and Crossdykes and then the one that we didn’t show made £4500 to Castle and Townfoot. In those days, we went home early as we were selling calves at Lanark the next day. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I had dreamt it!

Best animal you’ve ever bred?

I had a ewe that won the inter-breed at Abington Show away back in 2002. If she wanted to show herself she would and if she didn’t, so be it. Someone asked me why I hadn’t shown her at Peebles the week before and I had to admit that I had – she was fourth. That’s showing!

She was by Winterhope Perfection and was still on the farm breeding at nine-years-old.

Best animal ever seen?

It would have to be the horse, Denman. I was a huge fan and lucky enough to be at Cheltenham to see him win the Gold Cup in 2008. He was awesome and well nicknamed ‘The Tank’.

Best animal that you missed out on?

One would be King of the Castle, which was the one I really wanted and I lost him to Catslackburn and Becks, but he sold for a lot of money at the time. I came home with the aptly named Tushielaw Schumacher instead, which was a fantastic breeder for us and lived until he was 10.

Another I have to mention was Glengeith X Factor. We joined up with Catslack and Mountbenger to try and buy him but he too went to Becks. The late Tommy Renwick tapped me on the shoulder afterwards and said: “Three of you and you still couldn’t do it!”

Abiding memory?

First would be marrying Blair, followed by selling a tup for £15,000 to Mountbenger and Crossdykes, in 2016 – both fantastic days!

Biggest disappointment?

That same tup took an infection and only served a few ewes that year. We were gutted but he recovered and worked perfectly the following year.

Most influential person in your career?

I would say dad, for just being himself. He spent a lot of time at Stirkfield in his latter years. He and Blair got on very well and had some great discussions on all topics and we would also go to many shows together with our great friend, Christine Middlemiss.

It was all good fun and memories that I shall cherish.

Favourite sale?

One that we always look forward to is the tup sale. Cheviot breeders are very sociable and the pre-sale banter on tup viewing days and nights is enjoyable and hard to beat!

Best breeder?

There are so many talented breeders in the Cheviot breed that it would be unfair to name just one. I am lucky to live in an area surrounded by good stockpeople involved in all breeds.

In the days before social media, we used to tour the district admiring all types of stock presented for sales and the sight of the Kilbucho valley full of orange Blackies is one I will always remember.

I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with John Cunningham, from Parkgatestone, in my younger days. When I moved to Stirkfield we would speak to each other on the roadside several times a week as there were no mobile phones in these days!

I learnt a lot and had huge respect for him. We enjoyed being out socially with him especially after he had a dram or two and started to sing!

Best and worst advice?

Blair always tells me to stick with my gut instinct which is sound advice for most things, so that would be my 'best'.

The worst would be to hold the gate. I was told to hold a gate while a bull was getting put in a pen at Cloverhill and the bull kicked the gate, which hit my jaw and I broke two teeth. Lesson learnt!

Biggest achievement?

I would say selling the draft ewes from Stirkfield in one drove and topping the sale at Lockerbie with them – a memorable day.

Any hobbies outwith farming?

We both enjoy a day at the races and watch a fair bit of rugby. I enjoy a bit of gardening but Blair will definitely pass on that one!

The future of the breed?

It is good. In the years ahead with dwindling subsidies, hill farming will rely on low input systems which the Cheviot is well suited to. She can cross with many breeds to produce a quality breeding female or a good prime lamb.

At Stirkfield, we are lucky to have youngsters coming about that are as keen on Cheviots as I was, which is fantastic. My main concern is the amount of good hill ground which is getting planted and lost forever.