A Highlands sheep farmer is finding success by bucking a traditional local trend
Allan MacDiarmid manages the Coul Estate at Newtonmore and is the only farmer in the region to breed North Country Cheviot sheep rather than the traditional Scottish Blackface.
When Allan moved to Coul five years ago, the estate had 600 Scottish Blackface ewes, but his passion for the North Country Cheviot meant he decided to change.
As luck would have it, the well-respected Mid Gruinards Northie flock, owned by Brian Ross, came up for sale around the same time and Allan snapped it up.
He now runs a flock of 400 pure bred hill type ewes with the intention of growing this to 450 over the coming years.
“When I came to Coul, I had the opportunity to switch from the more traditional breed to the area, the Blackface, to North Country Cheviots, and decided it was the best way for me to go.
“By chance, the Mid Gruinards flock came up for sale.
“I had always admired the flock because they came off a harder place than here, so I was confident they would thrive.”
Allan grew up on the west coast of Scotland where his father ran 2,000 ewes, half of which were Scottish Blackface and the other half were North Country Cheviots.
Although he admired both breeds for their hardiness, his passion for the Northie truly developed after working with highly-respected sheep man, Hughie Mackenzie, at the Clebbrig Estate, in this late teens.
Allan said despite the breed being uncommon in the area, local people had warmed to them.
“I am surrounded by Blackface,” he said.
“I’m the only one running North Country Cheviots.
“But people are impressed with how they’re getting on.
“For me, the Northie is strong, hardy and robust with a tight skin and tough nature, making them pretty independent.
“The ewes provide us with strong, healthy lambs, and need very little assistance from us, both during labour and afterwards.
“They also have an extremely strong maternal instinct, making them protective and kind mothers.”
He added the lambs are usually bright eyed, on their feet within minutes and up running with the others within a day.
“This is always a great sight to see,” he said.
“They also carry a bit more flesh and finish easier, so store lambs sell for around £5 more than average.
“All in all, they’re a white-faced hill sheep doing a fantastic job in what is very definitely Blackface country.”
The North Country Cheviot consists of two distinct types, the Hill type and the Park type.
The Hill type was developed for its thriftiness and health, meaning it thrives in the poorest upland and mountain conditions.
Although undoubtedly still a hill breed, the Park type is larger, heavier and more suited to grassy hills and uplands.
Allan also runs a deer farm, and a beef suckler operation consisting of pure breed British Blues as well as a 40-head commercial Highland Cattle herd which are put to a British Blue bull.