The year 2020 will go down in history for many reasons – the devasting impact of

Coronavirus on world’s population and lifestyles and the year the UK officially left the EU, to name but a few – but it also commemorates 50 years of Lleyn Sheep Society.

After World War II and throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, the Lleyn breed was

officially on the endangered breeds list.

However, the late 1960s saw a group of breeders on the Lleyn Peninsula in

North Wales champion the prolificacy and maternal traits of the breed, with the Lleyn Sheep Society formed in December 1970.

In the years that followed, numbers multiplied, which coupled with increased

awareness of the female characteristics of the Lleyn ensured an ever increasing

demand for this popular commercial breeding ewe.

Lleyn sheep are now found in most corners of the UK and Ireland and must be

one of the best success stories in British sheep breeds.

According to the EBLEX 2012 survey there were 474,000 Lleyn ewes in Britain

compared to just 7000 in 1971. The report quotes: “In 40 years the Lleyn breed

has risen from a very small local Welsh breed to the largest non-hill pure breed in

Britain and the fourth largest non-hill ram breed. In addition, it is third behind the

Texel and then the Suffolk for contributing to cross-bred ewes, outside the Mule/

Halfbred types.”

Society chairman, John Dugdale says: “It is great to celebrate the success for the

Lleyn sheep. Our thanks must be given to those founder members of the society who spotted the potential and set up the Lleyn Sheep Society.

Appreciation must also be shown to the many members and officer holders over

the years who have worked tirelessly to get us where we are today and I am proud to be chairman of such a forward thinking, hardworking society.”

The society was hoping to celebrate its half century with several key events,

but unfortunately, these have had to be cancelled for now.

In the meantime, The SF visited one of Scotland’s first Lleyn breeders.

Few farmers will know more about Lleyn sheep than the Lawrence family from Blackpots, Auchnagatt, having not only been the first to introduce the breed to Scotland, but also one of the most successful at shows and sales over the years.

“The Lleyn breed has been in our family for 35 years now and I am proud to be a breeder of such a great mothering sheep,” said Raymond, who runs the Aberdeenshire-based flock, just outside Ellon.

“We are looking to breed our sheep bigger with good confirmation compared to what they breed down in Wales and we are now competing against the Suffolk and Texel breeds up here – we just need to watch we don’t get too big,” he added pointing out that his grandfather, the late Watson Lawrence, used to run North Country Cheviots before switching to Lleyns.

It was in 1985 that his father Norman Lawrence first discovered the breed after reading an article about them. He was instantly hooked and purchased two ewes and a ram from Welsh breeder, Tom Rees Roberts, later that year to establish the flock which now comprises of 230 breeding females.

“It must have been particularly challenging in those days, bringing foundation stock into Scotland where there was no demand for them and having to sell breeding rams back down in Wales. But I will always be grateful to my grandfather for doing it, as we wouldn’t be where we are today unless he had.

“The breed started to take off in the early 90s as more commercial farmers began to realise the maternal potential of the breed in Scotland, but there was a lot of work involved going down to the sales in Wales to buy our stock rams and sell our own when there were no sales in Scotland at that time,” said Raymond.

The breed’s main sale now staged at Carlisle, didn’t start up until 1996 with the Lawrence’s local sale at Thainstone commencing a good 10 years later in 2007.

“When Thainstone started up it was a great boost for us, it saved us having to travel miles to sell our sheep, and it was encouraging to support our local markets. With the breed sales so far away, selling our sheep was expensive,” said Raymond.

The farm also sells the majority of its prime Lleyn lambs, either off grass or swedes, through Woodhead, Turriff and Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ Centre at Thainstone, which last year saw 170 lambs average £80, while pedigree tups are sold between Thainstone and Harrison and Hetherington at Carlisle.

Thainstone customers are mainly local, repeat buyers as well as from the Tayside area and the north, including Shetland with North and South Uist the most recent.

Top price for gimmers in recent years at Thainstone was £205 achieved in 2017. 

Tup lambs for selling the following year as shearlings are wintered on swedes and silage.

“Swedes help to grow the lambs on and put a natural condition on them. They’re far better for them than straight silage,” added Raymond, who only feeds his rams a few weeks prior to the sales to give them that ‘bloom’.

All sheep are bred pure for a simple breeding policy which enables the family to breed their own replacement females, tup lambs for breeding and up to 30 shearling rams to sell the following year. Their shearlings are highly sought after too, having sold to 5000gns at Carlisle in 2004, purchased by the late Willie Davidson and son Alisdair, Poldean, Moffat.

Poldean is also where Raymond founded his Salers herd in 2003, purchasing heifers with the herd now made up of 120 sucklers split into two groups – 30 autumn calvers and the rest spring calvers. Heifers and the youngest cows are put back to a Salers to breed replacement females with the remainder bulled to a Charolais.

Calving can be hectic at times in the spring as it runs alongside lambing – inside at the beginning of April, with cameras set up in the sheds to save disturbing them unnecessarily.

“The cameras are great as we can see any problems that might occur without having to disturb them during the night. By lambing inside, we can also tag them before putting them outside. Lambing this year has been a breeze, as we’ve been able to get them outside to grass far quicker in the better weather.

Raymond’s niece Eilidh McGarth assists with the lambing for a fortnight and is keen on sheep work, whilst studying geography and environmental science at Dundee University.

“Getting the feeding right prior to lambing is crucial. If you don’t get that right you can get a lot of problems especially in ewes carrying twins,” said Raymond, who added that this year’s flock produced a scanned lambing percentage of 204%.

This years’ ewes saw seven stock tups take to the fields, with Raymond tending to buy one in annually.

“Lleyns are long lasting hardy animals, with a lot of our rams going on to be seven or eight years of age. There are always the exceptions, but on average we will put 50 ewes to the tup.

The most influential tup at Blackpots was a shearling ram bought in 1999 for 1100gns from Sackville Hamilton of Malton, at Carlisle.

“He was a great breeder. We’ve never had a ram like him before and he bred our Royal Highland Show champion as well as good strong lambs for selling commercially and for breeding,” added Raymond, who has just started naming the tups as a bit of fun to see what names they can come up with!

Showing has never been a huge aspect of the family’s calendar, but one Raymond went on to do to help promote the breed.

“We need to let people know about the Lleyn, they can ask you questions but until they see the success of the breed they won’t buy into it.

“Bringing out your best stock at a few shows just showcases the hard work done behind the scenes,” said Raymond, who also helped hold an open day in 2003 to help the sale of the sheep on farm.

Raymond might not be the most enthusiast showman, but he certainly knows how to bring out the goods, having secured both the breed championship and the reserve honours at the Royal Highland in 2008. More locally, the flock has landed the any other breed championship at Turriff, in 2016 with a gimmer.

“It is important that we maintain and build on the number of breeders in the society to ensure the popularity of the breed continues.

“We do need to concentrate on the female side of the breed to get people on board, and the Lleyn is a great mothering sheep that suits many systems,” said Raymond.

“It is going to be a tough couple of years for all in farming community with the EU market for lamb slipping and post Brexit plans unclear.

“We all need to stick together and work to get trade conditions and new markets opened up,” concluded Raymond.

Farm facts

Livestock numbers: 230 pure breeding Lleyn ewes along with a 120 Salers suckler cow herd

Acres: 450 acres, over two farms Blackpots and Hill of Skilmafilly

How long have you been involved: The family farm has been running Lleyns since 1985, and is one of the first families to bring the breed into Scotland. Raymond is the third generation involved in Lleyns

Who is all involved: Raymond is the main worker with nephew, Ross Graham now employed full time and father, Norman who still helps out when needed. Raymond’s mum, Helen used to be more involved in the bookkeeping side of things before passing it on to his wife, Allison.

On the spot questions

Best advice? Always invest in the best breeding stock for your flock or herd. It will pay you back in the long run.

Biggest achievement: Breeding our own Royal Highland Show champion is something I never thought I would be able to do, nor did my father.

If you could change one thing what would it be?: Meet my wife sooner, never met her until 2007 and she has been a godsend to me

Hobbies? I enjoy watching rugby, with this year being the first year we went to Murrayfield to watch Scotland vs France, I also like following the F1 motor racing.

Best return on investment: The 1100gns tup from Sackville Hamilton, he has bred a lot of our best lambs as well as our Highland Show champion, we have definitely had our moneys worth out of him.