What’s your background?

My grandfather was a dairy farmer at Ochiltree and decided, aged 60, that he needed a new challenge, so they took on a high hill farm at Newton Stewart.

Palgowan had 25,000 acres and our family association with Blackface sheep started then. My father moved from there to Crossflatt in 1948, so I’ve been here all my life.

I went to Aberdeen University from school to study Agriculture but always with the intention of coming home. At that time, we had 80 suckler cows along with the sheep and we had them until around 10 years ago, when the decision was made to disperse the herd because of my encroaching old age!

It was a wrench letting the cows go because I always took great pride in my suckled calves and got a lot of pleasure working with them.

The family have always been a huge support and help to me – and I couldn’t have managed without them. Having worked on my own for most of the last 30 years, I’m lucky to have Matthew Dunlop working with me now on a part-time basis.

What got you into breeding Blackface sheep?

Blackface sheep have been hefted on Crossflatt for a good few hundred years so there was no other path for me!

Even though there was an inevitability about it, I was really encouraged when I was young by Drew Wight at neighbouring Darnhunch, who gave me my first two lambs. My dad ran a top commercial flock, but I always wanted to get Crossflatt involved in the tup trade like it had been in the past.

What qualities do you like about the breed?

The Blackface ewe is just so versatile – she can rear a lamb on the most barren mountain top or produce 170% lambing on more productive ground.

Every year at lambing time I’m reminded just how maternal the ewes are and how hardy the lambs are. In our area, no other breed would do as well. One of my favourite parts of the job is working among my stock ewes and I always get a real kick out of it.

What do you look for?

First impressions are key, you shouldn’t need to look for a good one, it should be looking at you! For me, a stock tup must have real character.

A big wide muzzle and skull, with that width carried right through it to the back end. Get the shape right and the ewes carry their condition better through the winter and the lambs kill out at better grades.

What was your first big breed sale or show?

The first year I tried selling tups was in 1997 when I entered five lambs for Lanark. I was second in, in the wee ring – £50 reserve on my first lamb and I told the auctioneer just to sell the rest. I couldn’t believe it when they averaged £1650 – I was blown away.

Which is the best animal that you’ve ever bred?

It has to be a daughter of £26,000 Crossflatt. She not only had the looks but went on to breed sons to £52,000, £24,000 and £15,000 as well as Spectre and Tornado – she was a special ewe.

A close second would be another ewe by £13,000 Midlock, which went on to breed the £26,000 Crossflatt and McCoy. She was a tremendous stamp of a ewe with a great muzzle and cast of horn. I used her two sons widely, so her legacy can still be seen through the stock ewes today.

But what’s the best animal you’ve ever seen?

A sight I’ve never forgotten was the £49,000 Glenrath as a lamb out among his ewes. He had a presence about him that you rarely see – he was just awesome.

Some outstanding pens of sheep stick in my mind. The pens of ewes Troloss sold at Lanark, bought by the Harkins. They were different from all the other ewes at that time, ahead of their time, tremendous ewes.

Also, the pen of tup lambs Elmscleugh sold at Lanark off Menace, and the pen of shearlings Cuil sold at Newton Stewart off the £52,000 Dalchirla, were two pens of tups I’ll never forget.

Best animal you’ve been out-bid on?

I never really dwell on these situations – what will be will be.

You’re most abiding memory?

In 2011, I took seven sons of £26,000 Crossflatt to Lanark. The pen averaged £24,500. It was 10 minutes in the ring that I’ll never forget.

The fact my father was able to be there meant so much to me and seeing how emotional he was and how much it meant to him is something I still think about.

Biggest disappointment?

Disappoints happen almost every day in the business we’re all in and I’ve learnt to leave them behind. Some take a few deeper sighs than others though!

Most influential person in your career?

I’ve been really lucky throughout my time in farming to know a lot of people who have influenced me and it’s really hard to mention only one or two.

My dad was a huge influence. He instilled in me the need to care for both stock and the land – no short cuts. When I was a teenager, John McClymont, from Tinnis, always had so much time to talk to me and give advice – even at a busy tup sale.

Over the years, John Weir has been an invaluable source of advice and a great sounding board – not much gets by Jock when it comes to Blackface sheep.

My current hero is Jimmy MacGregor, from Dyke – he manages to mix great ability with modesty and charm.

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

Lanark tup sale every year is my favourite one. It’s got an atmosphere about it that you can’t beat ... it’s unique.

But it’s not just the present day, it’s all the memories of years gone by and the great characters that have bought and sold there through the years.

Your choice of best breeder ever?

It’s hard to compare breeders throughout the ages because each era has its own top breeders.

Charles Howatson, in his day, was a really prominent and progressive man and he advanced and promoted the breed. Likewise, Ben Wilson, in his time.

In my own era, there are so many people I could mention but for me, Ian Hunter stands out. He has had a unique position in the breed over the last 30 years, maintaining unbelievable standards, year in, year out.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

My dad always said that we are only caretakers of the land and we should leave it in better heart than we got it.

Biggest achievement?

The stock ewes that are on Crossflatt today are my biggest achievement in farming.

Any hobbies or interests out with farming?

Spending time with our growing family, including our five grandchildren under five. Travelling as and when time permits has definitely whetted my appetite – it’s something Mary and I want to do a lot more of in the years ahead.

Biggest hurdle had to overcome?

I broke my leg a week before lambing was due to start this year so, at the moment, getting on and off the bike seems like a major hurdle!

If you could go into any other breed what would it be and why?

We used to cross our draft ewes with the Bluefaced Leicester and I still have an interest in them. They also tie in with the Blackie, producing the unique Scotch Mule ewe.

One piece of advice you would give to someone starting out?

I would say to anyone starting out in the Blackie world is – first and foremost, concentrate on getting your ewe stock right.

What’s the future of the breed in your opinion?

The Blackface breed has never been better in my opinion.

They can still be run in traditional hefts or can adapt to modern systems. They are more prolific and kill out at better weights and grades than ever before. However, above all, the maternal instincts of the Blackface ewes are their greatest strength.

The breed is in great hands, with so many young and enthusiastic breeders coming through and so I’m really optimistic for the future.