With the aim to breed the best and an eye for quality, Stewart Shaw hopes to make his mark breeding commercial and pedigree Suffolk sheep at Smailholm Mains, Kelso.

Third generation farmer, Stewart works in partnership with his father, Alan and uncle, Ron, as well as his grandfather, Stewart, who still keeps a close eye on proceedings.

Part of the Mellerstain Estate, owned by Lord Haddington, Smailholm Mains is home to around 500 ewes, comprising 360 Scotch Half-bred ewes, 100 draft Half-bred ewes and 40 pedigree Suffolks, as well as 100 Limousin and Angus cross beef cows and 300 acres of arable.

“Our Suffolk flock at Smailholm Mains was founded in 2007 with just one in-lamb gimmer from Sandy Sutherland’s Soutra flock – gifted as a Christmas present from my grandparents. Since then, the flock has slowly increased in size over the last 13 years,” Stewart said.

“Breeding pedigree Suffolks suits our sheep enterprise as we have always used Suffolk rams to breed cross lambs from our Scotch half-bred ewes. Having our own Suffolks enables us to breed and use our own high quality ram lambs with clean hair and tight skins – perfect for breeding cross-bred lambs for the prime market – and sell them the following year as shearlings.”

In contrast to many top breeders, the Shaws have focussed on breeding sheep with a mixture of British and New Zealand genetics, thereby producing lambs with extra vigour, good feet and length. They also believe their sheep have extra muscle depth and fat from their native descendants.

“We started Signet recording last year to help us select for these traits and to help us decide what females to retain within the breeding flock,” Stewart commented.

“We look to breed tups with a good tight skin and a good size and have the genetics to back them up,” he said, adding that they recently purchased two high index tup lambs from the Milton and Sitlow flocks to use and are excited to see their offspring in January of next year.

With Suffolk tups having headed out to the pedigree females mid-August and the cross-bred ewes in October, the first round of lambing kicks off early January, with the cross-breds early March.

“All of our sheep get treated the same – including the pedigree Suffolks – with everything being wintered outside on grass and supplemented with hay or silage, depending on the weather. The sheep are then brought into the shed six weeks before lambing to allow our grazing ground to rest for spring, and slowly introduce them onto concentrates alongside their ad-lib silage,” explained Stewart.

“We look for a scanning percentage of around 200% for our main March-lambing group and around 180% for our January-lambing ewes.”

“All ewes are lambed on straw, with the January-born lambs being kept indoors for a few weeks due to the colder weather, whilst we aim to get all March-born lambs outside within 48 hours from birth,” he added.

All early-born commercial lambs are given access to creep feeding, with the aim of getting some away for the early spring lamb market, in April, while the Suffolk lambs only get creep feeding until about eight weeks or until grass growth has improved.

All lambs are weaned at 20-weeks of age, with the March-borns introduced to concentrates after weaning to get them away as early as possible, while the Suffolk ewe lambs are left to flourish on grass only.

Suffolk ram lambs only are fed to ensure they are in top condition for sales or for use on their own commercial ewes.

Most years, the Shaws sell around 250 breeding Suffolk cross Half-bred ewe lambs privately, and last year saw their best make £110 per head, whilst the remainder are sold fat either through St Boswells, or United Auctions, Stirling. Last year, they averaged between £90 and £100.

With all prime lambs sold by late November, Stewart turns his attention to Suffolk ram lambs to be sold the following year at Kelso.

“We have sold all our tups at Kelso for the past 10 years and aim to sell good quality commercial rams. Kelso is the perfect place for us as it is such a large scale event and, it’s just on our door step. It also attracts a huge amount of buyers from all over the UK,” Stewart stated, adding that this year his rams will be sold at the rescheduled Kelso Ram Sales, held at St Boswells's Mart.

Stewart certainly knows what is in demand, too, as two years ago, he sold the lead priced shearling ram at £3000 to Gareth Jones, from Northern Ireland, with his pen of eight shearlings averaging £1133, while last year they levelled at £825 for 10 shearlings.

Smailholm has also made its mark at the local shows with Suffolks, having secured the championship in the unregistered ring at the Border Union in 2010 and 2018, and winning the same section at Peebles in 2018 and 2019.

Stewart’s best year, however, was in 2019, when he won the inter-breed sheep honours at Berwickshire Show with a shearling by a Soutra ram that had been purchased at Kelso, in 2016. Notably, that tup has also been one of the flock’s best breeding rams too.

“Suffolks are the key to our whole sheep enterprise, although they are by far the most time consuming part of it.

"We don’t have the horrors of having to suckle every lamb like some older shepherds have warned me about, but they are not for faint-hearted as they are big, heavy sheep to work with and they can certainly test you!”

“Going forward, I would like to keep growing our business. The future is certain to bring uncertainty in what will happen after Brexit, but I’m sure we will take it in our stride and keep our options open to new challenges,” concluded Stewart.


• Smailholm Mains is located six miles from Kelso on the Mellerstain estate and is owned by Lord Haddington.

• The Shaw family have resided at Smailholm Mains since 1973.

• Smailholm Mains is a mixed enterprise comprised of 239 acres of spring barley for seed production for McCreath Simpson and Prentice, 64 acres of malting spring barley, which is also under sown with grass, 29 acres of shopping/ processing turnips and seven acres of stock feed turnips.

• Run 178 acres of rotational grass, 80 acres of permanent grazing and rent a further 30 acres of summer grazing.

• The farm is home to a commercial beef enterprise consisting of 100 Limousin cross and Angus cross cows all going back to a Limousin bull and all calf in the autumn. Calves are finished on farm at 18-months-old and are sold through the fat ring at Harrison and Hetherington, at St. Boswells.

• The family also contract to help justify the arable and grass land machinery and bring in extra income.

• Sheep enterprise totals 500 ewes comprised of 360 Scotch half-bred ewes which are lambed in March and 100 draft Scotch half bred ewes being lambed alongside 40 pure Suffolk ewes in January. Selling 250 Suffolk cross ewe lambs for breeding as well as fat lambs.


• Best advice?: When working for an Australian farmer a couple of years ago, he was telling me how he had never bought a ram for the last 40 years. I asked him how he avoided inbreeding in the flock and he told me to show him an example of inbreeding in the flock. To say the least I had no answer for him.

• Favourite restaurant?: It would have to be Kyloe Edinburgh

• An abiding memory?: Selling our £3000 tup at Kelso Ram Sales, in 2018, was a massive achievement; I think I even broke a smile in the ring!

• Biggest disappointment?: Life is too short to remember the disappointments.

• Best holiday?: Spending a few months, in 2017, working and travelling in Australia was fantastic. I would definitely advise anyone to do it and I would love to go and see a few more countries in the future.