Cheviots - the quality hill sheep

Allanshaws Nikki 2014 Royal Highland show Interbreed Champion
Allanshaws Nikki 2014 Royal Highland show Interbreed Champion

Cheviots are used widely throughout the UK and Ireland by sheep breeders for a lot of different reasons.

This year at Balmoral Show there will be a stand dedicated to promotion of three of the major types of Cheviot with the chance for the public to test there own judging skills in a stock judging competition.

There will be Park North Country Cheviots, Hill North Country Cheviots and South Country Cheviot hoggets on show with Roderick Runiciman the chief judge.

Roderick has been Champion at the Royal Highland Show in Scotland with his North Country Cheviot for the past four years and also won overall sheep Interbreed Champion in 2014. He farms 800 Cheviot ewes near Galashiels in Scotland. Everyone is invited to test their judging skills and help raise money for N.I Chest Heart and Stroke.

The North Country Cheviot is one of the better known of the Cheviot breeds in Ireland for being big, long and having excellent carcasses. The breed has a very long pedigree, going back over 200 years. The story begins with the noted 18th century agricultural improver Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster in Caithness in the far north of Scotland. He took 500 Cheviots from the Scottish borders north to his Langwell estate in Caithness. The Cheviots were a great success and in the following years thousands and thousands were taken north - to Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire. 

Over the years the sheep adapted and developed to suit their new environment and the North Country Cheviot, as we know it today.

The North Country Cheviot is a proven performer when used as a terminal sire crossed on to both hill breeds and low land breeds to produce replacement females with style and durability. The female is unbeatable pure or crossed with other breeds always improving them with thriftiness, healthiness, prolificacy and strong maternal qualities.

The Cheviot sheep that were developed on the hard and rugged hills of Sutherland are known as the Hill North Country Cheviots (they must not be confused with the South Country Cheviots).

The Hill North Country Cheviot has retained many of the visual characteristics of the original Cheviot of the late 18th/early 19th centuries. They are a breed with a great carcase, which is being increasingly used throughout Ireland due to their easy lambing and great maternal qualities. Over recent years we have noticed the Hill North Country Cheviot being used on many continental breeds due to these qualities.

The South Country Cheviot is known as the best kept secret in the sheep industry originated in the Cheviot Hills, on the border of England and Scotland. Recognised as a hardy sheep as early as 1372, South Country Cheviots did well in those bleak, windswept conditions, with their strong constitution, easy lambing, well developed mothering instinct, and fast maturity.

The Cheviot ewe can be found grazing up to 3,000 feet and is expected to live off the hill throughout the year. The ewe has fine hard white hair on her face, over the crown and on her legs which should have a fine, flat quality bone. It is a very alert, active sheep, with a stylish, lively carriage. The fleece should be dense and firm with no kemp or coloured hair. The rams can have horns. The main purpose of the breed is the production of quality lamb.

The draft ewes were originally crossed with the Border Leicester to produce the famous Scottish Half-bred; now the Bluefaced Leicester is also used to produce the ‘Cheviot Mule’. These crosses when put to a terminal Suffolk or continental sire, produce quality butchers’ lambs. The wool, which was once the base for the Border Tweed industry and could pay the tenants’ farm rent, has now declined to be of marginal importance. It is chiefly used in the tweed and carpet industry with a small amount being used in the craft trade.

So come have a go at judging, all proceeds are going to N.I Chest Heart and Stroke, only £1 to enter two categories Under 18 Sponsored by Stepping Stone Timber Products in Co. Fermanagh and Over 18 Sponsored by Farm Care Products.

Roderick is also judging North Country Cheviot classes at Balmoral on Thursday morning at 9:30am, look forward to seeing you there.

For more information on any of the breed’s or show event you can contact Sinclair Armstrong in Co. Fermanagh on 028 895 41742.

North Country Cheviots Contact Alison Brodie (Secretary) 01461 600673.

South Country Cheviots Contact Mrs Pat Douglas (Secretary) 01450 850218.