Show stopping breeding sheep with high-end sale potential is the name of the game for John and Finlay Robertson who work for J and MJ Hamilton's upland unit at, Crosswoodhill, West Calder.

With the firm having just taken on a large expansion of ground last year, the father and son team now manage some 4860acres – 3000 more than last year – with the result being, the boys are gearing up for a busier than ever round of autumn breeding sales from their 1600 Blackface ewe flock which not only produces home-bred replacement females and Blackface ewe lambs for selling but also the ever popular Scotch Mule when crossed with the Bluefaced Leicester.

While John – who lives his wife, Caroline and two sons Sam and Finlay – has worked here for more than 20 years, it is their son Finlay who has helped to put the flock on the map with his Bluefaced Leicester rams that have been used over the Blackie flock in recent years to produce show winning stock.

Finlay was just three-years-old when Neil Laing gifted him and his brother a Bluefaced Leicester gimmer each and their Beeches flock has grown to such an extent that the flock has been providing tup lambs to use over the Crosswoodhill Blackface females for the past 12 years.

Now 16, Finlay has just completed a National Certificate in Agriculture at Oatridge, and has come home to work, having helped out at weekends, lambings and in the production of all show and sale topping stock.

“He knows exactly what he’s talking about, and could tell you anything about the genetics of any of our flock… which he certainly hasn’t learnt from me. It is so important to get the younger generation involved to keep the farming industry strong,” said John.

John’s other son, Sam (20) is keen to help out when needed too, although he has just completed a three-year apprenticeship with WM Rose and Sons, an engineering company, which he has been lucky enough to land himself a full-time job.

Having been gifted with two Bluefaced Leicester females, the Robertsons had to find a tup to produce progeny and experimented with both a crossing type and a traditional type to see what would work best for them.

“The traditional type does have it’s place in other flocks such as producing Cheviot Mules, but the crossing type is the one that works for us. They produce more consistent lambs with length and character,” said John.

Commenting some of the most influential stock rams bought over the years, Finlay added: “The tup that stamped his mark most on our flock was a K4 Midlock bought at Hawes, where a lot of our tups are bought from.”

This tup lamb was purchased for £2200 from the Wight family, with another from the same home, a G84 Midlock bought at Kelso for £1200. “He helped improve the consistency of our breeding females," adding that last year they bought an L2 Sealhouses at Hawes for £1200 which has bred some good lambs.

The Robertsons also bought an E8 Tanhouse at Castle Douglas for £650. "He bred Scotch Mule lambs with great colours and size,” said Finlay.

New Blue tups are used on the Blackie flock first to see how well they perform as a crossing sire before using them in the pedigree Beeches flock. They've obviously got an eye for the job too, as two years ago, the boys produced their best ever sale, when a Beeches shearling ram sold for £2500 at Kelso.

Last year was even better too, as their seven shearlings sold to a top of £2400 to average £1400 – one of the best at Kelso.

Backing up these big sales is the fact that the progeny of their stock rams is making its mark in the show ring, with Scotch Mule gimmers and ewes bred from West Crosswoodhill Blackies shown by Finlay having triumphed at both local and national events.

The family have been at five shows this season and have had three championships, two reserve tickets with four different sheep and four different sires.

At the Highland Show in June, Finlay won the Scotch Mule championship with a Mule gimmer, while the firm also bagged the male championship amongst the Blackies at Ingliston for their first year exhibiting in this section.

Outwith the Highland, their Scotch Mules, have won champion and reserve inter-breed at Carnwath with a ewe lamb, of which the sire will will be forward for next week's Kelso Ram Sales. The family also picked up a reserve ticket within the Scotch Mules at Peebles show with a gimmer and the championship at Abington with a ewe.

Only a small number of potential show winning adult Mules are retained by the Robertsons, with the vast majority of ewe lambs (170) from West Crosswoodhill sold through United Auctions, Stirling, today (Saturday, September 7). They also have 30 gimmers for Stirling, and this year have decided to take 40 ewe lambs to Dumfries.

"We have increased Blackie ewe numbers, so we have increased our Mule ewe lamb entries slightly for Stirling on the year, but we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket so we've also entered a few for Dumfries,” said John.

Top price to date for their Crosswoodhill gimmers has been £156 paid two years ago at Stirling while their lambs have sold to £128.

The wedder lambs are also selling well, with some 180 sold through United Auctions, Stirling earlier in the year at 36-38kg to average £65 for 180.

Bluefaced Leicesters from the Robertson's Beeches flock are cashed through United Auctions, Stirling and Kelso, while the firm's Blackface tups head to Stirling, Dalmally and Lanark.

The firm also have females for sale privately and at sales throughout the year. To improve the breeding potential of the Beeches Blue flock, Finlay has also been flushing more of his best females to in a bid to produce more tup lambs of better quality for using as crossing sires over an increased Crosswoodhill Blackie ewe flock.

While the pure Blackies are lambed outside, all the Mule lambs are lambed inside for ease of management. "It's easier to tag and ring them inside so you then known which tup they are bred from,” said Finlay.

A former committee member of the Blackface Sheep Breeders' Association, John knows exactly what type of tup and the genetics he's looking to invest in.

“It's not all about what the sheep looks like, but it’s genetics. We believe if it is bred well then it will produce strong breeding Mules for us,” said John.

“Outwith genetics, it also has to have a good body, bone and skin."

Along with a successful sheep business, the firm also has a 120-cow herd of Simmental cross cows, of which most are crossed to Charolais bulls bought privately from Midlock, to produce commercial calves.

“We find Charolais bulls easy to calve to. They produce the best store calves and the calves in demand in the market place as they have the most growth potential,” said John.

With the increase in size of the farm and stock numbers at Crosswoodhill, it's a busy time for all, but this expansion has allowed the business to spread its cost of production.

"We would like to have up to 2000 breeding ewes, which in turn will enable us to produce sheep of better quality, but we won't be changing any of the breeds we work with. The Blackface crossed to the Bluefaced Leicester produces the best commercial breeding female and the one that is most in demand," said John.

“If anything, we will reduce cattle numbers and concentrate more on the sheep."

"It is a difficult time for all with so much uncertainty surrounding the industry. We just hope that increasing the size of the farm and spreading our costs of production will help. Smaller farms are always likely to be more at risk of change,” concluded John and Finlay.