Blackface breeder living the dream

BLACKFACE PHILLIPS RI Farm
ON FARM: Charlie Phillips (centre) with his daughter Christine and Shepherd Darren Kelly.

COUNTY Londonderry farmer Charlie Phillips says he is living the dream breeding Blackface sheep as it is something he always wanted to do since he was a child.

Now in his 60s Charlie has been sheep farming since 1983 when he bought a farm and started off with a flock of Perth type Blackface before changing to the Lanark type seven years later.

Today Charlie works in partnership with his daughter Christine, who is also studying at university, and his shepherd Darren Kelly, one of the best in the country, according to him.

Together they manage the 900 strong flock of Lanark type ewes at Finglen farm running them over 2,000 acres of hill land and an additional 200 acres of ‘greener’ Less Favoured Area land.

Charlie says he had several jobs before starting into Blackface breeding but always wanted to work with sheep.

“I was born on a farm and later on had several jobs outside farming,” said Charlie. “Since I was a young boy I always dreamt about running my own sheep farm and now that I am, I consider myself to be living the dream.

“I first started off with the Perth type Blackface sheep but found they were not suitable for our hill land here which rises to 2,000 feet and is well exposed to the elements. Snow would be the biggest threat to the sheep up there in the hills.

“For me, the Lanark type is more versatile and adaptable to our conditions and I have had good success with the breed over the years,” he said.

“Our sheep are kept outside almost every day of the year except at lambing time when we bring them indoors to give ourselves a bit more comfort and heat, especially during the long nights of lambing.”

When lambing Charlie or Christine takes the night shift from 8pm to 6am and shepherd Darren is on duty during the day. Charlie says if they get one healthy lamb per ewe he is content with that.

When it comes to breeding stock Charlie likes to sell the majority of his sheep from his farm, and has also been known to travel across the Irish Sea to purchase new bloodlines in Scotland.

“We don’t often take our sheep to agricultural shows,” said Charlie. “It’s very time consuming. However, we do like to support the Blackface Breeders Association Show in Ballymena and will take a few sheep to it in August as it is also the national show as well.

“We buy the majority of our new rams for the flock from Scotland and indeed have spent too much money there over the years,” he said. “However, good stock is becoming more available in Northern Ireland these days.”

Back in 2017, together with Eoin McKenna, Charlie managed to buy one of Nunnerie’s rams for £20,000 which was a son of the £100,000 Elmscleugh, and out of a ewe by an £11,000 Aitkenhead.

Then, the buying duo struck again in 2018 paying £26,000 for one from the Auchloy flock of Sandy Patterson from Crieff.

Charlie has also enjoyed relative success in the sales rings over the years and especially at the annual URBA Blackface show and sale at Ballymena mart where he has topped the prices a number of times including last year.

During that particular event one of Charlie’s Lanark shearling rams topped the sale selling for £9,000 to a conglomerate of three buyers Richard Nixon, Stephen Maginn and Iain Hunter.

“I really am living the dream here,” said Charlie. “I guess stock satisfaction is my main goal here. I like to sell the majority of the sheep direct from the farm to the customers. And any money that is made by selling stock is money to spend again on more stock.

“It is also really rewarding for me to see people who bought sheep off me before continue to come back and buy more off me again.

“That in itself is a good indicator that we must be doing something right here in terms of breeding good quality and eye catching Lanark sheep,” he said.

Charlie intends to take a few sheep to the Ballymena sale after having a good look at this year’s crop of lambs which is sure to throw out another prize winner or two.

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