An instant attraction as a youngster has led to a life-long passion for the popular Suffolk breed for Hawick-based farmer, Alastair Warden, who is now enjoying success in the sale rings with his much-loved rams finding their place among top pedigree and commercial flocks.

Located in the heart of the Borders, Skelfhill is home to third generation farmer, Alastair, who farms in partnership with his mother and father, Irene and Robert. With the farm primarily dominated by Alastair's well known Skelfhill South Country Cheviot flock and contrary to popular opinion, the Suffolk is proving to be just as hardy in the hills as it's field mates.

"The Suffolk is a really hardy breed and much like the rest of the sheep here at Skelfhill, they don't get any VIP treatment," commented Alastair. "With so much else happening on the farm, they have to be able to look after themselves – if they didn’t then they wouldn’t be here."

Skelfhill Suffolk females are hardy and prove their worth by producing top stock for Ali Ref:RH270821029 Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

Skelfhill Suffolk females are hardy and prove their worth by producing top stock for Ali Ref:RH270821029 Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

His love for the breed was discovered following the gift of some pet lambs from his grandparents as a child and after the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak, Alastair re-founded the flock with the purchase of four in-lamb gimmers.

"The Suffolk has a great temperament along with style and skin, and when used as a terminal sire, you are left with fast finishing lambs that catch the early market.

"To add to that, I love their strength and will to live. After year's of focussing on using specific bloodlines, we have managed to breed out the dopey characteristic and are now left with vigorous sheep," he added.

With the flock now totalling some 25 ewes, Alastair is aiming to keep numbers at a manageable level to fit in around the farm's other sheep enterprises, including his flock of 1000 South Country Cheviots, 550 hill Lairg-type North Country Cheviots, 450 Blackfaces, 100 Cheviot Mules and 20 pure Texels. In their cattle enterprise, the family manage 110 cows in total, comprising 40 pure Luings – which are bulled to the Simmental –, 35 Sim Luings and a newly established Galloway herd which numbers 10 females.

Alastair aims to buy his stock rams at the local Kelso Ram Sales or privately straight off the farm, and he has high standards when selecting a new terminal sire to introduce to his flock.

"I prefer to buy shearlings as I like to see the size and style of an older animal – it's too much of a gamble buying a lamb. I'm looking for potential stock rams to have good hind legs, as well as a good stretch, tight coat and ring presence. I always buy a tup with silky hair and a good head, and it has to have a leg in all four corners too," he explained.

With quality always at the forefront, Alastair has invested in Allanshaws genetics over the years, which have vastly improved the standard of Suffolk produced at Skelfhill.

"We have had our share of issues with the Suffolk as a breed in the past but the Allanshaws bloodline we currently have is great. Roderick Runciman has produced some cracking tups over the years, which have just clicked with our ewes and have played a huge part with the improvement of the flock," explained Alastair.

It wasn't until 2014 that Skelfhill Suffolks made their mark, having topped ring 14 at Kelso Ram Sales with a shearling hitting £1800, which then allowed the purchase of one of Alastair's most influential rams – an Allanshaws tup bought for £1700 in the same ring that year.

"That Allanshaws tup bred phenomenally well and in 2016, when his progeny hit the market, we returned to Kelso Ram Sales with his sons that went on to make £4000, £3400, £2500 and £2200," Alastair stated.

"He has made the biggest stamp on flock, with all our females relating back to him. He was just an absolutely outstanding animal, with beautiful black silky hair and such a presence about him – the perfect tup in my opinion."

With Suffolk tups having headed out to the females mid-October, lambing kicks off on March 5.

"All our ewes are tupped naturally and given Crystalyx buckets over the winter, before being fed hay or haylage at the turn of the year. By mid-January, the ewes are fed Ewelac rolls provided by Davidsons feeds to tie them over until they are brought indoors four weeks prior to lambing," explained Alastair.

Once indoors, all twin and triplet bearing ewes are moved onto two pounds of Davidsons Super Ewe feeding, with singles remaining on half a pound of Ewelac rolls to avoid any birthing difficulties.

"We look for a scanning percentage of around 190% and a lambing percentage of 170%," he added. "The ewes are lambed on straw, with all ewes and lambs retained indoors until the beginning of April to allow sufficient grass growth before they are released.

"Once the lambs are out to grass, they receive no feeding," added Alastair. "With the Suffolk genetics, we have no issues achieving daily live weight gain goals on grass alone."

All lambs are weaned at 12-weeks-old and after being sorted through the winter, anything that does not make the breeding grade is marked for the fat ring, at Longtown. Looking back at last winter's fat lamb average, Alastair sold his Suffolks to cash in at £125 per head, weighing between 48-50kg and aged eight-months-old.

The ewe and tup lambs destined for breeding are also split, with all ewe lambs being retained for breeding and left outside on grass, whilst tup lambs are housed indoors and both batches fed a Davidsons rearer blend to help with daily live weight gain.

Alastair also has a strict culling policy, with only the best stock being retained to enter his breeding programme.

"I'm quite strict with what stock I keep and will cull for a variety of reasons, including dirty legs, a dopey look or poor skin and shape. I don’t have time to spend on failing stock – they have to be good enough or they're gone."

With all fat lambs sold by the end of the year, Alastair turns his attention to his Suffolk ram lambs that are to be sold the following year at Kelso.

"My aim is to breed tups that suit commercial farmers that will go on and produce quality prime lambs. We have had a successful eight years, with good tups being sold into other pedigree Suffolk flocks and that gives me a big boost – it's great to have the feeling that you're on the edge of producing slightly better stock," Alastair commented.

On average, Alastair is selling 6-10 shearlings per year, with last year's shearlings levelling at £950 for six – three heading through the Kelso ring and the other three through St Boswells.

As well as his Suffolks, Alastair has already made a name for himself in the world of South Country Cheviots with his 1000-strong flock, of which 700 are tupped pure and the remaining 300 are crossed with a Bluefaced Leicester to produce the popular Cheviot Mule.

With his South Country Cheviot rams heading to Lockerbie to be sold as two-shear's, Alastair keeps only 100 Cheviot Mules to be crossed with his home-bred Suffolk ram lambs to produce fast finishing prime lambs. Selling through C and D Auction Marts, at Longtown, Alastair's 2020 prime lamb crop was finished on grass alone and balanced out at £110, weighing 42kg at five-months-old.

Bringing in a large slice of the farm's annual income are the remaining Cheviot Mules, which are sold as gimmers at Longtown, with 140 averaging just over £200 per head last year.

Skelfhill is also home to the flock of 550 hill Lairg-type North Country Cheviots and 450 Blackies, which are kept on the hill to help maintain the roughage.

"The hill here is very exposed and rough, but both breeds suit the environment perfectly. We aren't selling any breeding stock out of either flocks currently and all females are retained for breeding. The remaining lambs produced are sold either as store or fat through the live ring or privately straight off the farm," explained Alastair.

On top of the sheep, the Warden family also run a herd of 110 cattle, mainly producing fat calves that are sold at-12 months-old through Harrison and Hetherington, in St Boswells or United Auctions, in Stirling, to typically average £1050 for 80 in total.

Looking to diversifying their cattle enterprise, Alastair and the family recently welcomed a new breed to Skelfhill with the introduction of 10 Galloways.

"Looking to the future, we are wanting to have less cattle indoors with the intention of having more hill cattle to sell, that result in less inputs and costs. In my opinion, hill cattle are not as labour intensive as indoor kept cattle and there is a change in the market for them," he stated.

"A lot of hill farms have in-bye cattle but if farmers can utilise the hill ground and the hill grass for hill cows, they can make a profit."

Commenting on the future of the industry, Alastair added: "Over the past 12 months, prices are where they need to be but not being able to export stock to Ireland is a large concern – they can get produce to us but we can't get it to them. They said 12-months-ago that the market was going to be doom and gloom but look where we are. We are where we need to be and farmers are getting something back, which can allow them to invest and move forward.

"Honestly, I think the future of the industry is looking good and hopefully, for myself, farming here at Skelfhill with the next generation coming behind me is the best outcome I could hope for," he concluded.

Alastair and the family will have 10 shearlings forward for auction in ring 14 at the upcoming Kelso Ram Sales on Friday, September 10.


  • Farming enterprise: Hill ground at Skelfhill totalling 3200 acres, comprising 130 acres for hay and silage, 220 permanent pasture, 50 acres woodland and remainder hill ground.
  • Sheep: 25 Suffolks, 1000 SCC, 550 NCC, 450 BF, 100 Chev Mules, 20 Texels.
  • Cattle: 40 pure Luings, 35 Sim Luings, 10 Galloways – 25 back-end and 80 spring calvers.
  • Contracting: Contract farm neighbouring hill of 840 SCC and NCC.
  • Feeding: Davidsons and Solway Agriculture.
  • Labour: Four general workers.


  • Best investment?: That's an easy answer, the Allanshaws Suffolk tup as he put us on the map among the Suffolk breeders.
  • Biggest achievement?: I would have to say selling the progeny of that Allanshaws tup, along with selling a South Country Cheviot two-shear for £10,000.
  • Best animal ever bred?: The Southie two-shear, Skelfill Hercules – he had everything I would look for and went on to breed phenomenal progeny.
  • If you could go into another breed what would it be and why?: Recently, I would've said the Galloway as we had talked about getting into them for the past five years and we have finally taken the plunge. We look forward to seeing what they do for us here at Skelfhill.