North Country Cheviots – the breed of choice for Bardnaclavan

9 Feb 2023

A move by the family DN Campbell & Sons with their flock to Bardnaclavan in 1966 was the start of a name synonymous with breeding the best North Country Cheviots and winning the breed championship at the 2022 Royal Highland Show was further proof of that.

Bardnaclavan Farm is located a few miles from Thurso in Caithness, Scotland’s most northerly county and (some would say) home of the North Country Cheviot. “As a child, I would be at the sales with my grandfather and father, latterly my father and uncle had a fair input into the flock. I left school to work on the farm and now along with my brother David who looks after the cattle and machinery, I look after the sheep.” says Jonnie Campbell.

Jonnie is supported at busy show times by his wife Christine and their children, Ross and Ailsa with Ross shaping up to be another Cheviot enthusiast.

“We run a flock of 200 pure Cheviot park ewes alongside 40 pure Texels and 210 cross sheep which are put to Suffolk and Texel tups, lambing in March. The tail end of the park flock are crossed with Texel or Bluefaced Leicester X Texel tups to produce crossbred ewes. The majority have Cheviot blood in them.”

Some ground is rented for 450 Cheviot hill ewes where the pure ewes are run under the Campbells prefix. “We keep 100 ewe lambs back for replacement ewes with the remainder sold at Lairg’s first lamb sale in August where we have been getting very good prices. We also sell 10-15 hill tups each year split between Lairg and Dingwall where we have also been getting a good go with them.”

Working the two types of Cheviots gives the business a steady cash flow throughout the year comments Jonnie. Early park lambs are all way by June and the hill lambs are away from November until the end of February. They are back into lambing then with gimmers lambed inside and ewes outside. “The flocks complement each other in terms of work too and I find it quite enjoyable.” he adds.

Ewes are fed on Harbro 18% protein Premium ewe rolls and Jonnie rates it as ‘second to none’. “The feed is completely balanced and our sheep have done very well on it, the ewes always have plenty good quality colostrum.”

Jill Hunter, beef and sheep nutritionist at Harbro stresses the importance of quality ewe feed in how it sets up the lamb for its lifetime performance. “Feeding ewes right ahead of lambing time helps quality and quantity of both colostrum and milk which then influences lamb growth. This means we get robust and resilient animals which thrive, grow and finish better.”

During the winter from November through to May, tup lambs are fed on a home-mixed ration of home-grown bruised barley, Harbro lamb feeder minerals and Ruminant GreenGold which tops up the mix with high quality protein. “We make sure we keep them growing and this mix puts bone on them, growing the frame without them getting excessively fat.”

Harbro Maxammon Kelso Tup & Lamb – which has been used since 2014 – is fed to park and hill tups, with park tups sold as shearlings and hill as two shear. “Alongside silage aftermath, we start feeding park tups at the end of June through July and August then ease off leading up to the sale. We like to have them looking natural and this feed keeps them fit without being fat. Hill tups receive the same Kelso Tup & Lamb but for a shorter period of time, just six to seven weeks.

“The feed is balanced, everything they need is there and it’s a very good product. Sheep are inclined to be picky when it comes to coarse mixes so you know they are getting everything in a pellet.

I like to keep it simple – make sure they are fed the same time daily and don’t miss a feed. Saying that, it is very palatable, easy to feed, they are always looking for it and they never stall on it”

Jonnie is a council member for the North Country Cheviot Sheep Society and at the 2022 AGM, the flock was awarded the Braeval Trophy for most points at Caithness show, Black Isle show and the Caithness tup sale along with the Three Royals Trophy for most points accumulated at the Royal Highland, Royal Welsh and Balmoral shows.  The Campbell name is renowned for its quality of stock, having previously won championships at the Royal Highland for ‘Northies’  – as they  are affectionately known – in 2002 and for Border Leicesters in 1998.

“The purchase of tups way back from Jim Farquhar, Smiddyquoy stood us in good stead, getting good blood into the ewes. Jim was a master at the Cheviots and always had good sheep in his pen.”

Recent purchases include tups from Allanshaws in the Borders and from Alan Simpson’s Cairnside flock. “Alan’s tups have been fitting in well with our flock, modern type Cheviots with a good carcase, good skin and correct on their legs and from a pedigree point of view, they have clean, sparky heads which is the first thing to attract you.”

Cairnside Actionman was privately purchased as a tup lamb at Caithness Show and went onto sire Bardnaclavan Cooper, male champion at the 2022 Royal Highland Show. This shearling tup went on to set a centre record at Quoybrae mart and gave the highest price ever for Bardnaclavan, when he was sold for £11,000.

The merits of the Cheviot for Jonnie are quite simple. “You can cross the Cheviot with anything and you’ll always get a good lamb, whether a Bluefaced Leicester, a Suffolk or a Texel.  You’ll always get a good crop of lambs – without being too many – and the ewes are motherly and milky. We get a good scanning percentage without being excessive – scans of 180-190% – and for me, that’s enough”.

“The North Country Cheviot is a good hardy breed, they do well where they are born and bred. We have tried others but always come back to them.”

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