All Photos from The Scottish Farmer

Producing high quality stock that breeders can’t look past but with great show potential, is exactly what the Philiphaugh flock of North Country Cheviots aims to achieve.

Alan Cowens is farm manager at Philiphaugh Estates, which is owned by Sir Michael Strang-Steel, in the Scottish Borders, Selkirk. He’s in charge of the stock on a business which covers 2000 acres – 1200 of which is grassland, with the other 800 acres woodland or arable.

The estate now runs a closed flock of 2000 ewes, which includes Cheviots, Mules, Texels and Suffolks. The major part of that is 1300 Lairg-type Cheviots, of which 900 are kept pure while 400 are put to the Traditional Bluefaced Leicester tup to produce Cheviot Mules – a cross which is enjoying a boost in popularity in recent times.

Full-time shepherds, Allan Wilson and Scott Bell, look after the Lairg-type Cheviots and the cross ewes, respectively.

The estate started with North Country Cheviots when Alan moved up from Northumberland in 2005, after farming at his parent’s farm and achieving an honours degree in Agriculture at SRUC, in Edinburgh. The flock was established from Park-type ewe lambs purchased from Scott Davis and began with buying in commercial tups for around the £400 mark to get the flock started.

The breed’s commercial attributes have meant that as the sheep of choice for Philiphaugh, it was a ‘no brainer’ he said.

One of the first ‘big’ tup purchases for the estate was Ericstane X Factor purchased from Jane Jackson at £3000 which “helped form a lot of our strong females and made a stamp on our flock,’ said Alan. Another bought in tup – was Allanshaws Rooney, from Roderick Runciman, at 2800gns.

This ram has done wonders for us and has produced a lot of sheep with great breeding potential. For instance, he bred Philiphaugh Tevis, which had many show triumphs over the years,” said Alan.

The estate tries to buy in two new Bluefaced Leicester shearlings at Kelso, Builth Wells or Carlisle, every year to use as stock tups for the crossing ewes.

We started off small, but this year was the first year we ventured to Kelso Ram Sales and we managed to produce an average of £1200,” added Alan.

Many of this year’s Cheviots are by one of the newer stock tups, Synton Van Gogh, which was purchased for £5000 two years ago from G Davies and Sons. “He is breeding really well and we are glad of his purchase as his stock are really coming through,” said Alan.

The flock’s own top price was the home-bred shearling, Philiphaugh Tornado, which sold to 4200gns and was purchased by Roderick Runciman, for the Allanshaws flock, at Galashiels. He was a son of Allanshaws Red Arrow and he has gone on to produce some high quality breeding genetics.

We are old fashioned here and have not moved on to ET flushing any of our ewes, but it does seem to be working for us staying traditional. Perhaps one day we will need to move forward, but we are happy with the results at the moment,” added Alan.

Lambing starts in the middle of April with the Lairg-type Cheviots lambing outside, whilst the Mules and Cheviot park-types are lambed inside for more assistance and ease of management.

The Cheviot Mule flock usually scans well and this year the score was 219% – that translated into a lambing percentage of more than 190%. This fecundity means that it can be quite difficult to twin on triplets as they often don’t have many singles! That means a high proportion of the triplets are lifted into the pet lamb pen, where an automatic feeder acts as ‘mum.’

This is easily to keep an eye on and is much easier for the management side of things, reducing the amount of time spent on bottle feeding the numerous groups of orphan lambs,” commented Alan.

The feeding regime before lambing utilises Davidsons Animal Feeds’ ewe rolls from late January for six weeks and once the sheep are brought in, they move on to silage. “Proper feeding has a huge impact on your stock – and we have tried various products, but we have now found something that works for us,” said Alan.

The team at Philiphaugh puts a lot of hard work into showing off their stock during the main show season and that has paid off this year. Alan’s first venture to the Royal Highland Show as an exhibitor, saw him pick up tickets for four out of five of his show team.

He has also been picking up prizes at local shows and was champion and inter-breed champion at Dalkeith and reserve champion at both St Boswells and the Border Union, with a few more local shows still to come.

Sons James (8) and Cameron (10) have different perspectives of the farming world but are keen, hard workers within the farm. “It is essential to keep generations coming into the farming industry by encouraging younger breeders to be involved in what is such a fantastic way of life,” said Alan.

James is the most interested in farming and is always out in his spare time, helping with the stock. He also enjoys taking part in the showing side of things and has previously won many young handler competitions, including Dalkeith and St Boswells.

Cameron is more interested in the engineering side of thing with making and building things, but still loves helping on the farm when he is not at school.

Alan also has been part of the North Country Cheviot Society committee for three years. For his part, he is known for bringing size into the flock, but with a good coat plus fine white hair.

The future is very good for the breed and there are a lot of new members within the society and new flocks are starting up. It is a very friendly group to be part of and if you have a good sheep you will receive a good price, even if you’re not that well known.

The breed did die back a bit in the 1990s, but it is now becoming more popular again. Using Cheviots to produce Mules has brought the hardy type back into vogue and they really are easy managed, both as pures and cross-breds.

At Philiphaugh, we keep a closed flock for health reasons and that’s something which, as a breed, we should be encouraging,” added Alan.

Along with the sheep, Philiphaugh also runs an 100-cow Luing herd that are spring calvers, which ties in nicely with their lambing schedule.

They are a low maintenance breed and can be kept outside during winter and are a lot quieter compared to other breeds. Luing cattle work well with us because we are a upland farm with easy management as one of our main goals. Along with that, we are able to manage the grazing of rough pasture, which the breed seems to thrive on and they dovetail nicely with the sheep flock,” commented Alan.


All photos supplied by The Scottish Farmer


It takes a lot of hard work, grit determination and ability to make any sort of a living from the land and it is 10 times more difficult as a female working in a male dominated profession which throws criticism your direction at the drop of a hat. 

But, think on… how many of you were able to make a £50,000 nett profit from a 75-cow dairy unit last year?

While these figures are not colossal, when you consider the farm comprises of 100 acres with a further 85 acres rented and the farmer involved has been slowly but surely investing in the business with no outside financial assistance, and Roberta Dunbar is certainly doing something right.
She might not have the most state-of-the-art dairy unit at Cromlet, Airdrie, but her Barncluth Friesian herd – built up over the past two decades from scratch – is not only making money, but also winning awards. 

Last year, in what was the first year Roberta and her partner, Gordon Smith, had entered the British Friesian herds’ competition, they not only won the award for the best heifer, but also the title for the second prize home-bred cow in the 50-tonne class, with their herd standing third in the overall.
Best heifer was the Deangate Quentin daughter, Barncluth Quentin Annabel, which is projected to give 7500 litres in her first at 4.16% BF and 3.26% P.

It was another Annabel that picked up the second prize award in the cows – Barncluth Annabel 16, which produced well in excess of 70 tonnes of milk at 4.26% BF and 3.37% P up to her seventh and is currently in her eighth.
Best of it was, Roberta, or Bertie as she is better known, only entered the competition as she was so fed up being told she was ‘a stupid girl and shouldn’t be farming.’
Furthermore, while the herd is registered, the cattle have only been classified over the past couple of years and already boasts at least 12 Excellent classified and several VG cows.
“It’s so frustrating when so many farmers don’t think females are up to the job,” said Bertie.

“I’ve been farming here for 30 years, of which 22 have been on my own, without dad, and I’ve always had some sort of a mortgage hanging over me or had to pay out someone from the farm. 
“It’s ok for those who inherited a farm and all the stock that goes with it, but I had to buy out everyone and build up the business from scratch without any financial assistance. But we are getting there,” she added, pointing out that in the early days, all cows were tied up in a byre and mucked out by hand.
Despite the difficulties, she has been able to increase herd numbers from 35 in the mid-1980s to the current 75 – all from home-bred replacements – construct a cubicle shed to house them and a massive slurry store, all without grant aid.

They also purchased a second hand herringbone parlour at the end of 2015 for the tidy sum of £5000 which was fitted and milking the cows four months later.
“We’ve always had a mortgage of some sort hanging over us, but last year we made a profit of £50,000 before depreciation and this year we are looking at a nett profit of £50,000,” added Bertie.
It was Bertie who instigated the introduction of the British Friesian, all those years ago at Cromlet too.

Until 1987, the family farm – owned by the late James and Primrose Dunbar – comprised of just 100 acres and 35 black and white unregistered cows, with the first Friesian purchased being the stock bull, Standalane Almond, or Nuts as Bertie called him.
Farming was never an option for Bertie, or her sister Primrose, in the early days though, despite the fact both were desperate to work on the farm. 

Instead, they were pushed into going to college/university to further their education, which didn’t last long as Prim went on to be an auctioneer with United Auctions (now with Lawrie and Symington), and Roberta, while training to become a home economics teacher, managed to ‘slip through the net’ to work at home when their father was unwell.
“All I wanted to do was farm, but I always came home from college and was straight out to the farm,” said Bertie, who as a result not only ended up not only doing the morning and evening milking at home but also working for UA between 9am and 4pm at the same time.
She has been a fan of the Friesian breed from day one too. “I never liked Holsteins as they just weren’t suited to the ground here. We have heavy, clay ground, so we need cows that will work and milk well off grass and Friesians certainly do,” she said.
“Everyone thinks Friesians are wee cows, but our cows are of a good size and they can milk. Before I took over the running of the farm, the herd was averaging 5500-6000kg per cow per year, but my girls are giving 7500kg now at 4.3% BF and 3.43% P with a 388-day calving interval. 

“Fertility is never a problem either and they last forever, with most averaging seven lactations. We’ve got one cow we call the motorbike as she’s in her 13th lactation and she’ll let every calf have a sook.”
Admittedly, that old dear remains close to home but the remainder of the milkers are at grass as much as possible. Normally, they get out to grass from the end of April onwards, but much depends on the weather.

“Friesians are foraging cows and my girls can be in and out of the shed all year – they don’t mind a bit of rain or wet grass,” Bertie said, adding that as much as 34.7kg of milk per cow is produced from grass and sold through a Tesco contract.
There is no fancy feed regime at Cromlet either, with a Davidsons cake fed in the parlour only according to yield. Cows have access to ad-lib ‘rocket fuel’ silage produced from two cuts.
It’s the calves that really add value to this commercial unit though, with the mixture of 50:50 dairy and beef calves selling well. While the majority of Friesian heifers are retained, Friesian bullocks are either sold at six weeks at £160-£190 per head, or as yearlings. 
This compares to the beef calves, most of which are Limousin, with six-week old heifers making £380-£400, with their male equivalents at £400. 

Friesian bulls out of the best breeding cows are either sold privately or retained for breeding, with many lasting for years – she gets regular feedback from committed buyers who can even then sell them on to secondary buyers.
“I look to use black bulls with good feet and legs, figures for milk speed and calving ease,” she added, pointing out that 60+% of the cows hold to first service at 55 days.
Roberta is not finished yet either as she aims to expand to 75-80 cows and ‘do the job right.’ That is, of course, if she’s got any time in between milking, attending to the farm, the house, Gordon and of course their young son, James. 

There’s also the couple’s holiday caravan to manage and its associated hot tub, which attracts all manner of tourists! You are of course more than welcome to visit the Barncluth girls and you might, just might get one of Bertie’s prized scones and home-made jam too!

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