Bringing out top quality Blackface sheep has been part of the life of Sandy Patterson, of Auchloy, for decades – he was a shepherd for a long-time before using that experience to start out on his own, and that certainly did the business for him!


From a very young age all I wanted to be was a shepherd.

I have been very fortunate to have been able to work with good quality Blackface sheep all my life.

My father moved from Glenisla when I was seven years old to become farm grieve at Remony, for Alistair Duncan-Miller. I left school in 1960 when I was 15, and started working as a young shepherd at Remony, it was there I became interested in showing and breeding Blackface sheep. We won championships at our local shows - Perth, Aberfeldy and Crieff – and I soon caught the bug!

In October, 1966, I got married to Audrey, then we ventured up to Crieff and where our children, Caroline and Tommy arrived! I landed on my feet when working with Neil McCall Smith, of Connachan. I stayed there for 30 years, bar for 18 months when I went to work with Mr Charles, Longformacus, Duns.

In 1995, I was given the opportunity to contract farm a neighbouring farm which ran 700 commercial Blackface ewes and 300 Mule ewes. I also rented Auchloy from the same estate where I ran 120 Blackface ewes of my own, with the help of my son, Tommy.

My ‘initial retirement’ was in 2010, when I kept 40 ewes in fields in the outskirts of Crieff, which have done well over the past 10 years. But I am in full retirement now, my 70 sheep were sold as an entire flock in October over to Ireland with Karol McElhinney, Benmore.

What is it you look for in a Blackie?

Conformation, a set of strong legs, nice colours and a short coat, are the basics behind a breeding sheep, but it has got to have the character to show itself off.

If the sheep has a good, bright eye, it is passed onto the lambs, they will have more vigour to get up and suckle.

What’s the Blackface’s place in the commercial market?

If they have the hardiness and the conformation they need to survive on the higher hills, their offspring will compete no problem in the commercial market.

And when crossed with the Bluefaced Leicester, she will produce the most versatile female for commercial lamb production – the Scotch Mule. They will adapt to whatever ground they are reared on. Putting the Blackie female to another breed will be successful for fat lamb production due to them being such good mothers.

If you could choose another breed to go into, which would it be?

There are a lot of different breeds nowadays which have been in Scotland for years, but I have always had a soft spot for Bluefaced Leicesters and they are the perfect match for Blackies.

What got you involved in showing?

I was brought up on a farm and from a very young age I went to the local shows and was hooked on the Blackface sheep as a breed, as much as the showing aspect, which I also enjoyed.

Biggest showing achievement?

Winning champion three years in succession at Dalmally Show from 2016 to 2018 with the same female, J-Anna. She was named after Rod Stewart’s great fiddle player!

Best sale day?

For Connachan, it would have been in 1992 at Lanark when we sold the shearling, ‘Here Goes’ for £34,000, which was a record price at the time. He went to Troloss, as well as Connachan retaining a share – that day we had 14 shearlings which averaged £7185.

Another which will never be forgotten was in 1993 when Connachan sold 51 cast ewes at Stirling for £255 per head.

My own best sale would have been in 2014, selling a ram lamb for £38,000 at Lanark in November from just having a 40-ewe flock. Another would have been in 1998 when I sold a shearling to John Harkin, Loughash, for £23,000.

Best animal you have ever shown?

The three-times Dallmally Show champion, J-Anna.

The three-time Dallmally Show champion, J-Anna

The three-time Dallmally Show champion, J-Anna

But what’s the best you’ve ever seen?

There has been a lot of good sheep bred in recent years, but two from Dalchirla stand out to me. One of which was the £160,000 in 2015 and the other was a £40,000 sold in 1994. Both were strong examples of where the breed should be, showcasing that extra character that is needed.

In 1984, Connachan bred ‘Highland King’ which was the start of the good breeding sheep there and he certainly made his mark in the flock.

A £24,000 Midlock lamb, Midlock Nutter, bred a lot of expensive offsprings around the mid-1990s and showed exceptional character.

Abiding memory?

Being the first person to judge the national Blackface Show, in Northern Ireland, in 2015, judging the South-type.

Biggest disappointment?

I can’t really remember any, so they can’t have been that disappointing! However, with livestock there will always be disappointments you just have to rise to it.

Most influential person in your career?

The late, Callum McCallum was a shepherd at Remony in the 1960s and ‘70s, who I followed around when I wasn’t at school and some days when I should’ve been at school. He was very patient and gave me a lot of encouragement – without him I might not have been as keen on sheep as I am. He had a lot of respect for animals.

The late, Davie Cunningham also inspired me as he showed me the ropes at Connachan when he was the shepherd there when I joined in 1966. I learnt a lot from him as to what a good sound hill sheep was ... we were good friends up until his death in the early 1980s.

Best shepherd?

The late Graham McClymont, The Cuil, was one I had a lot of respect for. He was a great person and an excellent stockman. It was always a good laugh when him and his shepherd, Tommy Watson, came up to view our tup lambs.

John Harkin, Loughash, has helped me a lot over the years. He has been breeding good quality Blackface sheep for years and has done a lot for the Blackface breed on both sides of the water.

Another well respected shepherd and an expert in hill sheep is Billy McMorran, a previous shepherd of Troloss.

Favourite quotes?

Enjoy your youth, you will never be younger than you are at this moment.

When you reach rock bottom, it makes a good foundation of building the rest of your life on.

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

The people who live and work in the countryside do not have a strong enough voice to change what really needs changing. That needs changing!

Best advice?

Go for a career in farming, it is a great life! If you are looking to breed sheep, make sure to pick your type and be consistent. There are various types within the Blackface sheep breed – and not just the North and South types – choose your type and stick to it to ensure you get a more uniform flock.

Best investment?

In November, 2016, at the late Lanark ram sale, my son, Tommy, came home with a £500 Crossflatt ram lamb which was by the £160,000 Dalchirla. The first lamb we sold off him the following year made £8000, and in 2018 we sold a grandson for £26,000.

To make it even better when we came to sell the £500 Crossflatt lamb as an aged ram, he even left us with a £300 profit!

Are you involved in any committees/hobbies?

In the past I took on vice-chairman and then chairman of my local district, ‘No 8’ of the Stirling branch of the Blackface Sheep Association. I am now trying stick dressing.

Is there anything done differently over in Ireland?

Blackface breeders in Scotland depend a lot on the Irish buyers, buying both north and south types without them the Blackface sheep sales here wouldn’t be as good as they are.

I just hope the movement of stock between the two countries comes easier sooner rather than later.

The future of the showing circuit?

When we get out of this pandemic and everyone gets moving about again, I don’t see why the shows won’t be as popular as ever.

Showcasing livestock at the national shows as well as the wee local shows is a great shop window for the farming world so needs to be continued. Livestock is certainly there for the job.

I sometimes think the general public aren’t that interested in farming but the attendance record of these shows going up year on year just shows we have something to be proud of. We look forward to getting the good weather for the show season whenever that may be and getting to meet up with everyone again.