Tuesday 7 December 2010

A Cheviot fix. South Country Cheviots

I have had this posting saved as a draft for ages and never got around to publishing it, there is nothing quite like a cheviot to cheer one up and so a change from snow I'll share with you all my Cheviot fix which I had in early November when the world was green, not white.

Shep was honoured to receive an invite to view a 'special' flock of ewes just over the border into Scotland. Cheviots of course (what else?)not only Cheviots but ewes which are kept out of view of the general public, they don't run down to the roadside so a sneaky preview as you're driving past is not possible, no an invitation is the only way to manage to survey this flock. A private viewing is what I was honoured enough to be given and much was learnt on the day about the Cheviot and her attributes.

The shepherd who gave me his time was probably pleased to see the back of me by the time I left as I was like a knowledge thirsty youngster, question after question as to the how fors and what fors of the breed. His drawing of ewes to the tup would probably have taken just an hour or two had he not had me holding him back, querying this and asking that, meant it turned into a full days job. With head spinning the shepherd probably crashed out exhausted in the evening, whereas my head was still spinning as I had so much to digest. I'd had a great day! Time will tell whether or not I'll get an invite back to view the lambs!!

I was desperate to get my head around the difference between the east and west borders type of cheviot. It seems hard to believe there can be so much variation within a breed, however, it is the case with most breeds with the blackfaced breed being a prime example. There is the Northumberland type and the Scotch type blackfaced sheep, two profoundly different types of sheep within a breed. Then once within the Scotch type there are more variations, the Perth type, Stirling type, Lanark type etc., why ought the cheviot be any different?

I think, slowly but surely, I am learning the variation in the cheviots, although there is now a mix of the two blood types to add further confusion.

I have been told that originally there were two sale venues. Lockerbie was the home of the West Borders Cheviot with Hawick the venue for the East Borders Cheviot. Unfortunately the two types finally amalgamated and found themselves all heading to the Lockerbie sales.

By all accounts the East Borders were generally a polled breed. By polled I am referring to the tups (rams, entire males) as the females do not carry horns anyhow, regardless of which type they originate from. So if the East Borders were polled we can safely surmise the West Borders carried horns - correct.

The Cheviot which I would have drawn to mind years back was a shorter coupled creature almost of a dumpy disposition, this would have been the traditional East Borders type seemingly, the West Borders carrying more scope (size). Also the East Borders was renowned for a tighter skin compared to the West with a shaggier, more open coat. Phew! So much to take in!!!

Years ago, a problem arose within the East Borders type, it was known as footless. Seemingly the gene pool was not that big for the East Borders breeders and somewhere along the line a gene appeared which had lambs being born without feet. The tup which originally produced this faulty gene had rather unfortunately been given the name of 'tiptoe' when he was registered with the breed society. Rather ironical to say the least.

It would appear from what I have been told that due to the footless problem there were a number of bloodlines no longer suitable to be used and some inferior blood was used to prevent the spread of the footless problem. Eventually the East Borders men had to look elsewhere in an effort to dilute some of this inferior blood which saw them looking towards the West Borders type.

Sales of tups were beginning to dwindle at Hawick with the result the East Borders men began to head over west to Lockerbie to sell their tups, through the natural course of things the bloodlines amalgamated.

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The above photo is of some tups which came into the valley last year from Lockerbie tup sale, the far right are probably showing more to the west type than those on the left, however all seem to possess a good tight skin. Oh! the funny thing in the middle is a blackie, not yet another variation to the cheviot!!

The South Country Cheviot today is most likely to be an amalgamation of both types.

One noted Cheviot breeder told me quite recently that the East Borders type was extinct, I don't wish to get into an argument over a breed I am still learning about but I do know there are still those who are trying to retain the East Borders type. Regardless of type, I can't help but feel the South Country Cheviot sheep is a greatly improved beast from those which I recollect from my early shepherding days. Indeed when speaking to those who breed the creatures they have definitely taken a turn for the better, there has been an intentional improvement in the breed making her slightly bigger and less likely to hang her lambs

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I found myself being drawn in by the Cheviot from first lambing her a few years back (by default I may add as horror stories I had been brought up with of tails whizzing round like propellers as she disappeared ovcr the far horizon with a hung lamb sticking out of her backside had convinced me I never wanted to have anything to do with the beasts). They are no where near as small as I had expected, in fact they are of a decent size and solid with it. They have short erect ears and a very bright eye which seems more pronounced than that of eyes in other breeds. She has an ability to catch your eye without a doubt, but be warned, once she has caught your eye she then creeps into your heart!!
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A tough, feisty individual with a determination second to none accompanied by a fierce independence. She doesn't suffer fools gladly and has a strong dislike of human intervention but for all those attributes I have to say they are totally genuine, what you see is what you get, coupled with a outstanding kindness at lambing time. I just can't help but admire the South Country Cheviot.

My Cheviot fix left me on a high for a while, digesting all I had learnt. Imagine my pleasure when I found myself invited to travel with a neighbour into Scotland to have yet another Cheviot fix. Twice in a fortnight was almost too much!!! A neighbouring farm to the one which I lamb at was the destination and an enjoyable few hours were spent viewing and discussing the white woolly blighters with the result that some came home with us into the North Tyne - SO EXCITING!! The better half tells me I need to get a life! humph, he gets enthused about tractors and diggers so why can't I get excited about Cheviots?

So? What type of Cheviot where they? quite simply a South Country Cheviot, an amalgamation of the types which used to divide the borders. They are white, woolly and cute! What more could you ask for?


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