Conway brothers prepare for National Blackface Show

George and John Conway
George and John Conway

Well known Perth type Blackface breeders George and John Conway have selected some fine examples of the breed for the National Blackface show in Ballymena.

The brothers currently run 420 Perth type ewes and a further 80 Lanark type ewes on their farm at Craigatoke near Plumbridge, situated on the west of the Sperrins.

There has been a long tradition of breeding Blackface sheep in the Conway family as George and John, who have been farming in partnership since the 1980s, took over the farm from their late father PJ Conway.

At that time the flock numbered 100 ewes and had been built up by their father who started farming in the 1930s with the Perth type Rathsherry rams from the late Sandy Gibson.

John can easily recall working with sheep during his childhood and now approaching 60 he is proud to be still breeding the Blackface. The brothers both have sons, Leo and Eamon, who work full-time outside the farm but still take a keen interest helping out at busy times during the lambing season and with the shows and sales.

Today the Conway brothers graze their sheep over 360 acres of hill land, rising from 800 feet to 1,200 feet, with a further 60 acres of lea ground, 60 acres of conacre and an additional 60 acres of winter grazing.

April is the main lambing month on the farm and this year the brothers averaged around one and a half lambs per ewe.

Looking back over the history of the Conway flock, in 1987 the brothers travelled to Scotland and purchased sheep in Perth and Stirling. Their investments included a ram bought at £3,800 from Tom Patterson, Craigneich.

This ram bred well and the following year its son was reserve champion at the Ballymena show. It was then sold for £800 to Sandy Smith from Haughton in Aberdeenshire and went back over to Scotland. This was the Conway brothers first ram lamb to cross the Irish Sea.

The goal for the Conway brothers in terms of breeding is to use two of their own homebred tips in the flock each year from good blood lines.

John said: “Fashions are changing but we like to breed a tip that catches the eye, has good hair, a nice coat and a good muzzle. He should be strong on his legs, as well as being a good size.”

It’s not always the expensive tip that produces the best lambs as the Conways discovered when they bought a Woolfords lamb for £250 in 2016.

John added: “That lamb went on to breed the champion ram lamb at the 2017 and 2018 URBA shows selling to Matthew Hamilton in 2017 and the another lamb in 2018 sold for £5,500 to David Ballie and Steven Duncan.”

John judged the shearling rams at Perth Ram Society last year and bought the Perth champion for £7,500 which is off a Conway lamb sold in 2016.

The brothers like to support their local Plumbridge and Omagh shows. Female sheep from the farm is sold both privately and at the Blackface sale in Plumbridge mart in early October.

The males are also sold privately and at Plumbridge mart at the end of October.