Cassington Bluefaced Leicesters have won four breed championships and two inter-breed pairs titles at the Royal Highland, but looking back, Matt Drummond says he remembers it being a daunting experience exhibiting for the first time.

“I started showing sheep as soon as I got my driving licence and we regularly showed locally from then on, but I remember being quite unsure about going to the Highland initially – it’s a far bigger deal,” he said.

But, encouraged by his late father, Matt took the plunge in 2002 and subsequently secured a red ticket in each of the first three classes. Fast forward to the 2006 show, which Matt recalls well for more than one reason.

“I’ll always remember the 2006 show – it was the first year that we won the breed championship and my wife Elaine wasn’t there, as she was due with our son, James, who was born soon after,” said Matt, who has since won the breed title a further three times, always with home-bred sheep.

The Drummonds also lifted the inter-breed pairs trophy in 2010, with the male and female in the duo both coming from Cassington, and then again last year, when their home-bred gimmer teamed up with Alan McClymont’s four-shear ram, to take the top spot.

With limited spare time these days, showing is now restricted to Ayr, the Highland, Perth, Stranraer, and the two local ones, Straiton and Dalrymple. They’ve enjoyed success at all of those, but last year’s Ayr Show was particularly special, when their home-bred gimmer, by a Gornal sire, won the breed, inter-breed and show supreme titles.

She is one of 50 traditional type Blues in the Cassington flock, which was established under Matt and his brother, Connell’s name, when they were young. The breed has a far longer history with the family though – Matt’s grandfather bought his first one between the wars.

“When the numbers were built up initially, the original ones came from Jimmy Cruickshank, when he was at Castle Douglas and before he went to Laidlawstiel. They’ve always done well for us here and there was always a strong demand for them in the area,” explained Matt.

“There are 17 farms that march Cassington and the majority of them were dairy farms that also had Blackface ewes, so there was a great local trade for Bluefaced Leicester tups in those days, to put onto the Blackie ewes,” he added.

Tups were sold at Ayr in the early days and they continue to be sold there today, as well as Kelso, Castle Douglas and privately.

Types and fashions have changed dramatically within the breed, with the crossing type growing hugely in popularity over recent years, but at Cassington, the Drummonds have largely stuck with the traditional type that has successfully served them and their customers for many years.

“We don’t have sheep here unless they are productive and profitable, so keeping to the traditional type is very much commercially driven. We’ve always been confident about where we were going with them and we’ve always had a market for them.

“Latterly, we’ve bought a lot of Welsh blood, but this year, we’ve actually gone back and used semen off a tup we bought in the year 2000, Knockairdie Blue Diamond. He did really well at the time and we thought we’d give him another go on some different bloodlines that are around just now.

“We do have a small number of crossing types in order to meet the needs of all our customers, but we’ve actually seen some of those that had moved to crossing types, going back to the traditional type.

“We are very selective within the breeding flock – if a lamb doesn’t get up and sook on its own, then neither the lamb nor its mother are kept.

“Performance recording plays a big part in selecting which traits we are looking for and it’s definitely working. We no longer need to get up in the middle of the night to lamb the Blues and there’s no heat lamp needed in the shed.

“The main aims within the whole sheep flock are efficiency and ease of management, which are so important now with rising costs and fewer staff.”

The home team includes Matt’s mother, Etta and he and Elaine’s son, James, who is almost 13 and already an integral part of the business. The Drummonds moved to Cassington, at Kirkmichael, in Ayrshire, in 1952, but have farmed in the parish for more than 200 years.

In line with many of the neighbouring farms, they moved out of dairying seven years ago and briefly tried a beef cow herd, before deciding to concentrate solely on the sheep enterprise.

On and around Cassington, they farm 800 acres of grass, including 40 acres of forage crops for finishing lambs (turnips and kale), and the growing sheep flock currently consists of 1000 ewes and 500 hoggs. Alongside the 50 Bluefaced Leicester ewes and 12 Hampshire Downs, there are 600 Cheviot ewes and 70 Blackfaces, with the remainder being Cheviot Mules and some Scotch Mules.

Replacement hill-type Cheviot gimmers are bought from Lockerbie each year and home-bred Blues are used on them as lambs, before being sold as shearlings. Some of those resultant Cheviot Mule ewe lambs are kept for breeding, with 300 sold privately as gimmers each year.

“There is a huge demand for the Cheviot Mule gimmers and we can get a premium for them, compared to the Scotch Mules. The people who are buying them are focused on their productivity – cosmetic traits don’t matter.

“The small Blackface flock is there for us to use the crossing Blues on as lambs, and the tup lambs from both the Cheviots and Blackies are fattened and sold deadweight through the Ayrshire Lamb Group,” explained Matt.

For the past few years, the Mule ewes have been tupped by Hampshire Down rams, which Matt first tried as an experiment after buying one at a sale in Ayr. He was so happy with the results and James was so taken with the breed, that he now has a small flock of his own.

“The aim with the Hampshires was to produce lambs that would get to 21kg deadweight as easily and quickly as possible, and they have certainly done that. The lambs have plenty go about them too and are up, sooking straight away. They are there to do a job and if they didn’t do it well then we wouldn’t have them,” said Matt.

Like the Blues, the Hampshires are performance recorded, allowing Matt to select specific traits that he needs in his flock.

“I don’t pay attention to the overall indexes but I do look at growth rates and fat. Some flocks down south don’t want positive fat, but we definitely need it here to face up to the challenges of the weather and so the lambs can get to the weights needed.”

The Hampshires and Blues are lambed in January and February, but the majority of the commercial flock lamb from April 1, conveniently timed for James’ two-week spring holiday from school.

“James is a massive help at lambing time – there’s no way we could lamb the number of ewes that we do without him being off school at that time. He’s a big part of the team.”

Ewes are fed pre-lambing to ensure they are in good condition, which Matt says is essential in preventing twin-lamb disease and prolapses.

After lambing, they receive no more feeding and are wormed, fluked and put back out within days, with the lambs marked at this point too.

Urea is applied early in the year, to encourage grass growth, and ensure that there is plenty grass available for the ewes post lambing.

“To save time later, when they leave the lambing shed, we split the ewes and lambs into fields for singles, twin ewe lambs, mixed twins, etc. With limited labour, we’re always looking for ways to make our system as easily managed as possible,” said Matt.

They will, however, as always, take some time off for a few days at the Royal Highland, with their show team of seven traditional Blues.

“It’s a big social event and we always look forward to it. It is a big commitment financially and time-wise to show at the Highland though and I think it’s important that the organisers focus on keeping the livestock exhibitors happy – there is no show without the livestock.”