Serendipity isn’t a word used much in everyday conversation. It means a pleasant surprise.

The trade for breeding sheep has been as good as serendipity gets. This is surprising considering the possible impact of Brexit with no trading or customs agreement in place for sheepmeat.

We have even had record prices for rams, albeit records for Cheviots are a fraction of those for Blackies or Texels and the Blackie record was for a shearling only. Record prices are, of course, nothing new. Neither are opinions about whether or not these prices can be justified and whether or not they are indicative of the prosperity of the sheep industry.

My earliest exposure to record prices came when we visited my grandparents at Blackhaugh, near Galashiels. Above the mantelpiece was a large portrait of the Cheviot ram ‘Dignity’ which my grandfather sold in 1920 for the Scottish record price for a ram of £1200. This would equate to somewhere between £30,000 and £40,000 today.

His pen of 17 averaged £136. Cheviot wedders were making £2.50, which was up from £1.50 in 1919. It would have taken 800 of them to pay for Dignity.

Dignity was born at the right time because there was a brief window of prosperity after the Great War before the Government cast farming adrift by repealing the Agricultural Act 1920 which guaranteed prices. The same year, a Blackie made £800 and a Border Leicester £1100.

But, Dignity didn’t do so well after that. He was sold to Major Thomson, owner of The Ben Line of merchant ships, who owned Callands, in Peebles-shire. The quality of the flock was mediocre and opinion was that Dignity would have found a better home at Dalhork, in Sutherland, owned by George Mundell, an experienced sheep farmer, who had run him up.

My grandfather must have looked back wistfully in 1932 at the depths of the 'Great Depression', when his champion at Hawick Tup Fair made £45 and his pen of 14 had the top average of £18. It would have taken 334 wedders to pay for my grandfather’s champion then. The price for wedders had dropped from £1.50 in 1930 to £1.25 in 1931 to £0.65 in 1932.

Things got a little better after that, however Dignity’s record wasn’t broken until 1948, when farming had returned to prosperity due to food shortages after World War 11. That was the last throw for the Cheviots.

From then on the record price was held by a Blackie until 2009 when a Texel made £231,000, equivalent to 3300 wedders valued at £70. This year’s highest price, again for a Texel lamb, of £210,000, came near.

My own flirtation with record prices, which I mentioned last month, came in 1979 when I bought the North Country Cheviot, Clifton The Maestro, for £8000. None of his sons broke their sire's record, however two topped Hawick Tup Fair. He definitely paid his way – unlike a number of record breakers including Dignity who died in debt.

When The Maestro was a three-shear we found him one morning with one of hind legs flapping uselessly. We took him to the Veterinary Field Station, near Roslin, where the snapped tendons were replaced with plastic ones.

The veterinary surgeon who performed the operation, Joe Fraser, phoned me wondering if his bill of £120 was rather excessive. I replied that I would have paid him 10 times that. The ram lived three years after this operation. He went from tupping 90 ewes to only manage around 35, but we were happy with that.

It is interesting that the second of the two rams which topped Hawick Tup Fair was from the last crop of lambs sired by The Maestro. This would seldom happen today.

With the extensive use of AI and ET, a record breaker can now sire more lambs in his first year than he would have sired in his entire life 20 years ago. The market, if he has bred well, is quickly filled up with his offspring and by the next year a new ‘hot’ ram has replaced him.

In times past, the much higher prices paid for Blackies, compared to other numerically smaller breeds, reflected the fact that a Blackie ram which was a good breeder could still be siring sale toppers to the end of his days without the market being saturated with his kind. Now, that doesn’t matter much.

The Blackie tup sales come last in the calendar. I spent a day, my first for some years, at the Lanark shearling day. Some things hadn’t changed.

The catalogue was still just two folded sheets with an etching of the old mart in the centre of the town on the front. Inside it gave the name of the vendor, his farm and the brand numbers on the ram’s horn; no pedigree, performance or health status of the flock.

My initial impression was that, apart from their horns, the rams were smaller than formerly. Maybe it is just that my eyes are used to looking at in-bye tups these days.

For the benefit of those not involved with Blackies, the critical factor in deciding the value of a Blackface ram is ‘The Hardy Look’, or sometimes just ‘The Look’ – which mostly depends on its facial colouration. ‘The Look’ has changed a bit since my last visit, but then throughout history it always has.

A shearling sold for a new record price of £100,000 and the sale average, too, was a record. The next day, a ram lamb sold for £150,000 which almost broke its sire’s record of £160,000 when it sold the previous year.

So, all is well with the Blackie, record prices and ‘The Tough Look’? Those in my patch of the Lammermuirs aren’t convinced.

When I left Rawburn in 1993, we had four hirsels of Blackies totalling 2200 ewes. Now two of the hirsels are stocked with hill Northies and the other two carry half the sheep they did. Of my nine neighbours who had full Blackie herdings, three still have Blackies but are only half stocked, one has planted trees, two have changed to Lairg type Northies and three have no sheep at all.