The North Country Cheviot, although essentially a hill sheep, is one of the most versatile breeds in the country, and can thrive in a wide range of conditions.
One of the benefits for breeders is that there is always a keen demand for all classes of stock – ewes, rams and both ewe and wether lambs.
The versatility of the North Country Cheviot is such that ewes can be crossed successfully with most other breeds and there are lots of examples around to illustrate this. The Cheviot Mule, the result of crossing the Bluefaced Leicester ram with the Cheviot ewe, is proving a most effective producer of prime lambs when crossed with a terminal sire.
Crossing North Country Cheviot ewes directly with terminal sires such as Suffolk, Texel, Beltex and Charollais also works very well, not just for the quality of the prime lambs, but also for the superb first cross breeding females.
Draft hill ewes sold to lower farms at about five years old consistently prove great performers, producing another two or three crops of lambs and have proved a sound investment over the years.
The Cheviot ram, too, has proved his worth in crossing programmes, especially with other hill breeds. The big advantage of using the NCC ram is that the cross lambs produced, like pure bred NCCs, have the kind of carcase required to meet today’s market specification, are consistently of good conformation and can finish at all weights without becoming too fat.
Again, there are many, many examples to confirm this – on Welsh hill breeds such as the Beulah Speckled and Welsh Mountain, on Scottish Blackface, Swaledale, Herdwick, Rough Fell, Derbyshire Gritstone, Exmoor Horn etc. In each case the lambs are hardy and vigorous, much in demand for slaughter, store and breeding – tight-coated stores suitable for short or long-keep and prolific, milky females.
Breeders are finding, whether using North Country Cheviot ewes or rams in their crossing programmes, that they are getting premium prices for their cross lambs as the crosses retain many of the attributes of the North Country Cheviot, in particular leanness and good conformation.
Lamb finishers, too, are finding that premium prices are paid for North Country Cheviot lambs during winter and spring. Buyers come from all over the country to the annual sales of lambs bred on the hills of Northern Scotland. These lambs, reared on some of the most inhospitable ground in the country, are ideal for fast-finish or long-keep feeding systems. This flexibility is a boon for finishers, in that they have a product that can be marketed at any time from autumn right through to spring. The consistency of conformation and the fact that they can be slaughtered at a wide range of weights without fear of becoming overfat is a major advantage over most other breeds.
The North Country Cheviot has a great deal to offer the sheep industry – from the pedigree and commercial breeder through to the lamb finisher. The number of sheep producers in various parts of the country making use of the North Country Cheviot is sound testimony to the cost-effectiveness of the breed. Its quality and consistency make it well worth considering if you are looking for breeding stock or lambs for finishing.