Quality not quantity is the name of the game for Graham and Fiona Burke, who have certainly made a name for themselves breeding and exhibiting Beltex sheep out of their Pentland flock from Brechin.

Despite owning one of the smallest flocks in the country, such is the breeding potential of their 12-ewe pedigree flock, combined with the couple’s keen eye for the job, that they regularly produce show winners at both local and national events, with assistance from daughter, Rachel (15) and son, Robbie (13).

This show season, the family has secured five breed championships, a supreme sheep and three reserve sheep inter-breeds, this year – at Alyth, Fettercairn, Kirriemuir and Perth – with two home-bred gimmers. However, their highlight was lifting the Scottish National Beltex championship, at the recent Border Union Show, in Kelso, with the home-bred gimmer, Pentland Dixie, which also stood reserve inter-breed sheep.

This show gimmer also stood second in her class to the champion at the Royal Highland Show this year to add to the numerous other accolades attained this season and since the flock was established just over 20 years ago.

“It is really satisfying and rewarding being able to breed and produce champion winners when we have such a small flock,” said Fiona who attends to the day to day running of the flock – founded on two imported gimmers from Belgium.

While Fiona attends to the sheep, Graham, who is equally enthusiastic about the breed, also runs his own auction and procurement company, Pentland Livestock.

“We sell everything from modern machinery to small tools and everything in between at our premises in Kirriemuir, we conduct off site specialist sales and farm sales as well as the procurement and sale of livestock either farm to farm or direct to abattoirs” said Graham.

He has worked in the auctioneering profession for more than 25 years and named their business after the Pentland Hills, which overlooks the family farm where he was brought up and his parents still live.

Very much a family run business, Rachel and Robbie are also keen to help out whenever they can and particularly on show and sale days.

Keen young breeders, both have won a number of young handlers’ competitions over the years at local events, with Robbie taking third prize at the Royal Highland this year as well as winning at Kirriemuir and Perth with Rachel winning at Alyth.

Rachel took part in the sheep dressing competition at Ingliston for the first time this year, and together with partner, Cameron Baillie, also lifted a third prize ticket.

No strangers to the top prices in the sale rings either, the family bred the former record priced tup lamb, Pentland Hero, which sold for 6800gns some years ago now at the breed sale at Carlisle.

That lamb was sired by the family’s first stock ram – The Rustler, an imported tup bought in partnership from the late Gavin Shanks for 1300gns which made a huge impression on the flock, with most of the females going back to this well-known tup.

They’ve also made their mark with home-bred females and other males selling shearlings to 3000gns, gimmers to 1700gns, ewes to 1500gns and ewe lambs to 1200gns.

However, with so few females to breed from, selecting a new stock ram is a big deal, with the correct back breeding being essential. Most are purchased at Carlisle, with a few bought privately.

One of their most successful purchases to date since The Rustler, has been Kingledores Rascal, bought in 2011 in partnership for 8000gns – the record price at that time for a ram lamb within the breed.

“That tup left a real stamp on ewes, producing progeny with great character, shape and length,” said Graham.

Broxty Wishful Thinking, a 3200gns partnership buy, has also added to the breeding potential of the Pentland flock and has sired many of the flocks top breeding females over the years.

Their selective breeding programme has proved a winner too, having bred the champion winner at the first National breed Show at Dumfries.

That was Pentland Kylie, which sold for 1200gns in 2006 and who is the grand-dam of the 60,000gns Topflite Al Pacino, sold in 2016.

Last year’s joint purchase, the 10,000gns Clary Desperado will hopefully help continue the flock’s success with the lambs on the ground showing great potential.

Outwith breeding their own Beltex sheep, the family have always been involved in the breed society, with Graham having taken on many roles over the years to include being chairman between 2008-2010 and as a respected judge, he has selected the top winners at all the Royal Shows and many other agricultural shows throughout the UK and Ireland.

“It is a great society to be part of, everyone is very welcoming and friendly. Being members of the Beltex Sheep Society has allowed us to make life-long friends throughout the UK and Ireland,” said Graham.

Just as importantly, the family believes the breed has a strong future, provided that flock masters stick to breeding a medium sized animal that is not too big. “There is no need to change the breed as it is doing what it was brought here to do and is currently ticking all the boxes.

“The breed was introduced to this country for it’s carcase and conformation and that has to be remembered at all times.

“When sheep start getting too big, they can start to lose conformation and that’s not what the breed wants. Commercial producers want carcass and shape while the pedigree breeders also need that bit extra character,” Graham added.

It’s the best two or three females that show the most character that the family look to flush every year to boost number.

However, both Graham and Fiona aim to be extremely selective and only breed from correct females with a good balance throughout. Any lambs born into the flock that are not correct are culled.

With six successful shows under their belt this year, it’s been a busy season for the family culminating in next week’s breed show and sale at Carlisle, where the Burkes will have two shearlings, two tup lambs and six gimmers forward for sale.

This year’s show gimmer, Pentland Dixie, will be offered for sale alongside her full sister with the other sister being retained and

two other gimmers forward are full sisters to the inter-breed sheep champion at Alyth, this year.

The shearlings forward are sired by Woodies Barbarian and Broxty Wishful Thinking. While one of the lambs will be a substitute sired by the new stock tup, Desperado – although this was only born as a twin mid-March, he is already showing potential.

It’s a busy time for everyone and while the family would love to expand their Beltex operation, they believe they have enough on their plate with both enterprises going from strength to strength – and so their flock will remain small, but mighty!