The man in the spotlight for this week's Breeders of our Time feature is none other than the well-respected South Country Cheviot breeder, Jim Robertson.
With an illustrious career behind him, he opened up to Kathryn Dick about abiding memories from his childhood, favourite animals and who his choice of best breeder is.

I was born at Burnhead Farm, at Eddleston, before my family moved to Dryhope Farm, in the Yarrow Valley when I was 10-years-old. After leaving school, I attended SRUC at the Oatridge campus for three years on block release. We had a stock of 800 Blackfaced ewes and 650 South Country Cheviots at Dryhope.
Not long after that, The Becks came up to let and I was playing rugby down in Wales when I got a phone call to say we had been successful and secured the tenancy on a partnership agreement with Buccleuch Estate. It was a great opportunity to start out on my own, although my father was never far away!
So moving to Becks in 1980 at the age of 20 on my own it was a steep learning curve. I was fortunate enough to have great neighbours who were always on hand when I needed some help.
We are now running a flock of 1000 South Country Cheviot ewes, as well as 40 Texels and 100 Galloway cattle.

What got you into breeding your choice of breed?
Honestly, I had no real choice! As my father had explained to the careers man at school: "Jim's going to be a sheep man ... so you're wasting your time on him."
My interest for sheep definitely started at home. My first lambing was with Blackies before I took over and lambed the Cheviots, so my passion has grown over the years and I've never lost interest.

What qualities do you like about the South Country Cheviot?
The South Country Cheviot is a very honest ewe. She'll look after her lambs, even if she is lean. They are hardy, kind and suit the demands of the modern day pedigree and commercial farmer. All our hoggs are fattened off grass and this year averaged 43kg from top to tail.

First big breed sale or show?
My first sale was in 1986, where I sold a tup – Becks Commander – for £4200. I used him as a shearling before selling him as a two shear – he was a very good breeding tup.
My first show would have been Yarrow Show as this was the big one for me growing up. Then, of course, Langholm Show was always one I attended and exhibited at from The Becks.
Showing for the first time at the Royal Highland Show in 2019, has to be the most memorable winning the  South Country Cheviot Championship with Castle Crusader one of his first son’s selling for £12,000 to Catslackburn.

Best animal you’ve ever bred?
I’m not really sure. One, however, that does stand out other than Becks Commander was Becks Ringleader, which sold in 2020 for £11,000. He was a great tup that had all the qualities I would look for in a stock ram ... but there has been many others throughout the years.

Best animal you’ve ever seen?
It was a Blackie of all things – a Gatehouse shearling called '007' purchased by Angus Kennedy for £37,000. He was showed at the 2002 Royal Highland Show, where he stood inter-breed, however, those were the days of scrapie monitoring and that tup scored a 5, which caused some controversy. According to the rules at that time, he really should have been culled but you just couldn't as he was such a fantastic sheep.
I saw him and thought he was one of the best sheep I had ever witnessed. He had everything you would want in a tup – power, good skin, great hair and fantastic mover just a great all round sheep.

Best animal you’ve lost?
The biggest loss would be Catslack Topspot purchased from Norman Douglas in 2018 for £11,000. Unfortunately, he only lasted one year – he died for whatever reason sheep die! I did, however, manage to get some progeny off him, with a son selling for £8000 the following year.

Abiding memory?
I would say that winning the Young Farmers shearing competition at the Royal Highland in 1985. This was a huge achievement for me as I had tried for years to do it and was running out of time to get the top spot but I got there in the end!
My most fondest childhood memories would be during my time in Yarrow Valley. The colour scheme everyone had for their sheep is what stuck with me. 
Sheep used to be covered in clay before the whole valley turned into a sea of yellow. My father even tried carpet dye of all things, even my arms were yellow after holding them in the dipper, and now they're back to black. My favourite colour was the clay – we used to go to Lanark and clay the sheep at four o'clock in the morning right before the sale.

Biggest disappointment?
I don't do disappointments!! You always have to be optimistic, especially in farming!

Most influential person?
Without a doubt I would have to say my father also Jim. For the first 10 years of my life, I was brought up in Yarrow valley among the likes of the Irvines, Renwicks, McClymonts and Douglas – all fantastic sheep men. It was a great place and without a doubt, this helped me develop my interest in sheep farming.

Favourite sale and why?
It has to be Lanark. I just love the buzz and I have no work to do there, so I can just go and enjoy it. When we were growing up, we used to get £30 to spend on a tup lamb and bring it out as a shearling for sale back at Lanark, which was our bit of fun among the shepherds son's. 
I sold a shearling for £900 one year, so that was a good turnaround in profit and was one of the best competitions we had as youngsters – and a lesson learnt in making profit.

Best breeder ever?
This is an easy one, it has to be Ian Hunter, of Dalchirla. He's up there year in and year out and has stayed true to his type of sheep. He's just an amazing guy.

Best and worse advice?
Best – It was my first time judging a show an old shepherd stopped me at the ringside and said: "If your going to make a mess make it quick." It was a nice settler for a youngster on his first outing.
Worst – A land agent told me to sell all my cows – thank God I didn't listen to him!!
Biggest achievement?
Lasting 40 years on a Buccleuch Estate Farm!

Hobbies or interests?
I used to play rugby for my local team in Langholm and when I was 19 I was lucky enough to play for the South of Scotland under 20s. I still watch it today and keep up with the friends I made.
I'm also chairman of the British Wool Board, joining in 2017. It has been a tough past few years, with pressure to ensure farmers get a fair price for wool. With no support from government and increasing use of man made fibres, it's an up-hill battle. 
However, people are moving away from synthetics to natural products as the public become more aware of the damage that's been done to the environment.

Future of the breed?
To be honest, I think the Southie has a great future. We have adapted and changed the breed from being a stocky sheep to an easier lambing type, lifting the lambing percentage to more than 130% is now quite common amongst breeders. She is able to produce an easy fleshed hogg off grass and with the Cheviot Mule have created an superb in-bye ewe.