Scotsheep is always the first big event farmers up and down the country look forward to after lambing and calving, so it comes as no surprise that this year's second deferral came as a real setback not only to the industry and organisers, but also host farmers, Robert and Hazel McNee.

NSA Scotsheep 2020, was initially due to be staged next week, on Wednesday, June 3, at the McNee's Over Finlarg hill unit just outside Tealing, Dundee, but with the announcement of the coronavirus lockdown in March, the organisers 'tentatively' set a new date for Wednesday, July 8, 2020, which has since been postponed until Thursday, May 27, 2021.

"As soon as we heard the Royal Highland Show had been cancelled, we knew the odds were very much against us which is understandable given the circumstances surrounding Covid-19," said Robert.

"Then, when Scotsheep was delayed for five weeks, we were all set to go again, but we knew the longer things kept going in lockdown, it was unlikely we'd get the go ahead. It is disappointing, but it is also understandable and it's not as if any of the work we've done has gone to waste. It just means we'll be even better organised for next year's event!"

Hazel has been equally disappointed: "We have been gearing up for this for just over a year. Everything revolved around getting ready for the big day, so for it to be re-scheduled until next year is really disappointing, especially when things are looking so well."

The couple who farm 740 acres, plus grazing on a neighbouring heather hill and 40 acres of seasonal grazing rented, along with stockman, Drew Speed were well ahead with the work too. The tups had been put out a week earlier and the ewes had received additional feeding to ensure they were looking their best for the event. As a result, the Blackies started lambing on April 10, with the Cheviots 10 days later.

With a dry, mild spring, and a good scan from their 1100-ewe flock – ewe hoggs scanned at 124%, Blackface ewes 185%, Blackface gimmers 143%, Cheviot ewes 178% and Cheviot gimmers 152% – all of which were lambed outside, the team has more lambs than ever to sell too.

Add to that a good, relatively easy calving with the first of the cows and calves out to grass a month earlier than normal, and spring has been a joy compared to some previous years. With the farm situated at 800ft above sea-level and rising to 1150ft, usually there is little if any grass until the beginning of May, but this year, such has been the milder weather, that the first of the cows and calves went out on April 1, and all concentrate feeding has been stopped.

"We can get some really had winters and I've seen snow here in April, but this year has been so much easier," Robert added.

Outwith the general running of the farm, the McNees were also well ahead of the work for Scotsheep. Bull pens and a general purpose shed had been built at the end of last summer/autumn and Algo had been in to do a lot of on-farm repairs in January and February, before lockdown.

The only thing that had to be done for the event was a bit of new fencing round the farm, which has since been postponed until next year.

Of greater concern for next year's event, is the crop rotation, as the McNees had reseeded a 14-acre field of grass close to the steading as a show field for marquees and trade stands, which is going to have to remain as such which in turn means they will lose their normal field of barley for home-grown feed.

For now though, it's back to the general on-farm routine complete with mucking out of sheds after the winter, albeit with the on-going schooling of young Kate (7) and Alan (5) since lockdown!

"It has been really difficult home schooling especially during such a busy period. Kate and Alan are really good when we're working with stock, but you do need to have eyes in the back of your head all the time to make sure they're ok," said Hazel.

"They've also had to put up with my baking lessons, and I'm no baker!"

They have nevertheless been in regular contact with Robert's family based just outside Armadale and Hazel's family, based Forgandenny, where the couple still help out every week after taking a batch of finished young bulls down to ABP at Perth, on a Tuesday morning.

As the owners of some pedigree cattle herds, they've also had some pretty successful private bull sales, all down to Hazel's handy work on Facebook.

Last Monday was more of a trial though, in that it was the family's first trip to the market to sell home-bred Scotch Mule and Texel cross hoggs with lambs at foot, through United Auctions' Stirling centre.

Normally, the couple would sell 150 with lambs at Texel cross lambs at foot, but with the Covid-19 restrictions limiting the number of buyers, they opted to sell just 100 which sold really well, averaging £103 per life for the Mules and £107 for the Texels, and keep the remainder to sell in the back end as gimmers.

"It's going to be really strange having nursed these sheep all the way and then have to say cheerio to them at the loading bank when all we want to do is make sure they get mothered up correctly and look their best, before they're sold. They've been our pride and joy since the lambs were born in April and we can't even stand beside them in the ring," said Robert, who will also miss the craic.

"The lockdown hasn't really affected us yet because we would have always been really busy at home up until now, but not being able to attend the sale and speak to people will be a real miss. The hogg sale was always the first chance we got to get catch up with people after a long winter and busy spring.

"Auction markets and agricultural shows are great as you get to chance to speak to farmers, do business and enjoy the craic, which is so important when farming is such an isolated profession

"We're not jet-setters and were never ones for holidays to the sun, but we would bend over backwards to judge a show or a sale, with holidays often geared around what ever show either Hazel or I were judging.

"The Highland was always the first real break out and then we'd look to either attend or show at several of the local events, so they are going to be a real miss this year," added Robert.

But all is not lost, Kate and Alan are eagerly awaiting their summer holiday – in Aunty Kay's caravan which is currently residing in the garden at Over Finlarg – and Hazel has already had a catch up with friends over a Zoom wine tasting session.

"But, it's not the same. I do miss the banter that goes with shows and sales and catching up properly with friends," added Hazel.

Just exactly what Scotsheep is all about...

Scotsheep facts:

Where: Over Finlarg, near Tealing, Dundee, run by Robert and Hazel McNee and family.

The farm: 740 acres, plus grazing on a neighbouring heather hill and 40 acres of seasonal grazing rented.

Commercial sheep: Both the sheep flock and suckler herd are closed, with only home-bred replacements used for breeding and tups and bulls bought at auction. The McNees lamb 1100 head each year, comprising 600 hill-type North Country Cheviot ewes of which 200 are bred pure and the remaining crossed to the Bluefaced Leicester for producing Cheviot Mules. There are 200 Blackface ewes crossed to home-bred crossing-type Bluefaced Leicesters to produce Scotch Mules, with the result then tupped to the Texel and sold as hoggs with lambs at foot. Cheviot Mules are also sold through the sale ring as gimmers the following year.

Pedigree sheep: 100 pure Texels and pedigree Bluefaced Leicesters for breeding tups for home use and shearlings for the commercial market.

Cattle: The farm supports a well-known beef enterprise of 180 pedigree cows, including 100 Luings, 60 Limousins, 12 Simmentals and eight Charolais.