Producing high quality stock that breeders can’t look past but with great show potential, is exactly what the Philiphaugh flock of North Country Cheviots aims to achieve.

Alan Cowens is farm manager at Philiphaugh Estates, which is owned by Sir Michael Strang-Steel, in the Scottish Borders, Selkirk. He’s in charge of the stock on a business which covers 2000 acres – 1200 of which is grassland, with the other 800 acres woodland or arable.

The estate now runs a closed flock of 2000 ewes, which includes Cheviots, Mules, Texels and Suffolks. The major part of that is 1300 Lairg-type Cheviots, of which 900 are kept pure while 400 are put to the Traditional Bluefaced Leicester tup to produce Cheviot Mules – a cross which is enjoying a boost in popularity in recent times.

Full-time shepherds, Allan Wilson and Scott Bell, look after the Lairg-type Cheviots and the cross ewes, respectively.

The estate started with North Country Cheviots when Alan moved up from Northumberland in 2005, after farming at his parent’s farm and achieving an honours degree in Agriculture at SRUC, in Edinburgh. The flock was established from Park-type ewe lambs purchased from Scott Davis and began with buying in commercial tups for around the £400 mark to get the flock started.

The breed’s commercial attributes have meant that as the sheep of choice for Philiphaugh, it was a ‘no brainer’ he said.

One of the first ‘big’ tup purchases for the estate was Ericstane X Factor purchased from Jane Jackson at £3000 which “helped form a lot of our strong females and made a stamp on our flock,’ said Alan. Another bought in tup – was Allanshaws Rooney, from Roderick Runciman, at 2800gns.

“This ram has done wonders for us and has produced a lot of sheep with great breeding potential. For instance, he bred Philiphaugh Tevis, which had many show triumphs over the years,” said Alan.

The estate tries to buy in two new Bluefaced Leicester shearlings at Kelso, Builth Wells or Carlisle, every year to use as stock tups for the crossing ewes.

“We started off small, but this year was the first year we ventured to Kelso Ram Sales and we managed to produce an average of £1200,” added Alan.

Many of this year’s Cheviots are by one of the newer stock tups, Synton Van Gogh, which was purchased for £5000 two years ago from G Davies and Sons. “He is breeding really well and we are glad of his purchase as his stock are really coming through,” said Alan.

The flock’s own top price was the home-bred shearling, Philiphaugh Tornado, which sold to 4200gns and was purchased by Roderick Runciman, for the Allanshaws flock, at Galashiels. He was a son of Allanshaws Red Arrow and he has gone on to produce some high quality breeding genetics.

“We are old fashioned here and have not moved on to ET flushing any of our ewes, but it does seem to be working for us staying traditional. Perhaps one day we will need to move forward, but we are happy with the results at the moment,” added Alan.

Lambing starts in the middle of April with the Lairg-type Cheviots lambing outside, whilst the Mules and Cheviot park-types are lambed inside for more assistance and ease of management.

The Cheviot Mule flock usually scans well and this year the score was 219% – that translated into a lambing percentage of more than 190%. This fecundity means that it can be quite difficult to twin on triplets as they often don’t have many singles! That means a high proportion of the triplets are lifted into the pet lamb pen, where an automatic feeder acts as ‘mum.’

“This is easily to keep an eye on and is much easier for the management side of things, reducing the amount of time spent on bottle feeding the numerous groups of orphan lambs,” commented Alan.

The feeding regime before lambing utilises Davidsons Animal Feeds’ ewe rolls from late January for six weeks and once the sheep are brought in, they move on to silage. “Proper feeding has a huge impact on your stock – and we have tried various products, but we have now found something that works for us,” said Alan.

The team at Philiphaugh puts a lot of hard work into showing off their stock during the main show season and that has paid off this year. Alan’s first venture to the Royal Highland Show as an exhibitor, saw him pick up tickets for four out of five of his show team.

He has also been picking up prizes at local shows and was champion and inter-breed champion at Dalkeith and reserve champion at both St Boswells and the Border Union, with a few more local shows still to come.

Sons James (8) and Cameron (10) have different perspectives of the farming world but are keen, hard workers within the farm. “It is essential to keep generations coming into the farming industry by encouraging younger breeders to be involved in what is such a fantastic way of life,” said Alan.

James is the most interested in farming and is always out in his spare time, helping with the stock. He also enjoys taking part in the showing side of things and has previously won many young handler competitions, including Dalkeith and St Boswells.

Cameron is more interested in the engineering side of thing with making and building things, but still loves helping on the farm when he is not at school.

Alan also has been part of the North Country Cheviot Society committee for three years. For his part, he is known for bringing size into the flock, but with a good coat plus fine white hair.

“The future is very good for the breed and there are a lot of new members within the society and new flocks are starting up. It is a very friendly group to be part of and if you have a good sheep you will receive a good price, even if you’re not that well known.

“The breed did die back a bit in the 1990s, but it is now becoming more popular again. Using Cheviots to produce Mules has brought the hardy type back into vogue and they really are easy managed, both as pures and cross-breds.

“At Philiphaugh, we keep a closed flock for health reasons and that’s something which, as a breed, we should be encouraging,” added Alan.

Along with the sheep, Philiphaugh also runs an 100-cow Luing herd that are spring calvers, which ties in nicely with their lambing schedule.

“They are a low maintenance breed and can be kept outside during winter and are a lot quieter compared to other breeds. Luing cattle work well with us because we are a upland farm with easy management as one of our main goals. Along with that, we are able to manage the grazing of rough pasture, which the breed seems to thrive on and they dovetail nicely with the sheep flock,” commented Alan.