The hardy North Country Cheviot breed is ideal type for hill farming

CHEVIOT PREVIEW RI Farm
flashback: Irwin and David Dougherty with the Champion Hill Type at the First National Show 2019.

IRWIN and Olive Dougherty and their son David run a mixed farm in the foothills of the Sperrin mountains, overlooking the scenic Foyle Valley with the Donegal blue stack mountains in the distance.

The family hill farm runs to approximately 1,000ft above sea level and is a mixture of grass, permanent pasture, rough grazing and heather.

ABOVE: A typical batch of hill type North Country Cheviots out on the hill.

Traditionally the farm ran a Blackface flock, but when Irwin and his wife started farming they had an open mind to try a different breed suitable for their situation. Much research was carried out and many farm visits were attended. Eventually the breed was whittled down to two.

“We needed a sheep that was going to stand the harsh weather on a hill farm as they would be out-wintered, basically we needed a hardy sheep,” says Irwin.

“After a farm visit to the Armstrong’s Leam Flock in Tempo our mind was nearly made up with the Hill Cheviot, but another visit to the Devine Farm in Strabane convinced us that the Hill Cheviot would do our job.”

Getting foundation stock in Northern Ireland proved a problem. So in 2014 Irwin and his father attended the annual Cheviot ewe and ram sales in Lockerbie in Scotland, and bought 125 ewes and three rams. So a new flock was registered with the prefix Curryfree after the townland.

Initially the flock was bred pedigree to breed replacement ewes as the original ewes brought in from Scotland were draft ewes which had previously lambed four and five times. With careful breeding and selection under the watchful eye of stockman David, the older ewes were gradually replaced, the majority having lambed up to seven and eight times.

David commented that not many other breeds would have the longevity of the Cheviot with the ability to rear lambs on hill ground successfully.

David completed a three-year course at Greenmount and did his work experience in Aberdeenshire in Scotland. On his return to the family farm he was keen to try crossbreeding, so a Bluebell ram was purchased which is a cross between a Blue Leicester and Beltex. The cross was successful with the ewe lambs and hoggets being sought after for breeding, the same farmer returning year on year. Paddy was delighted with the results from the ewe lambs.

The Curryfree flock is now well established and built up, having sold a number of carefully selected rams each year.

With local agriculture shows underway it was decided to showcase what the Curryfree flock had to offer.

“With the first ever national North Country Cheviot show being held in Omagh last year we entered four lambs, one hogget and one ewe. We had a very enjoyable and successful first time showing, with a homebred ewe winning the breed championship in the hill section. Also the winning ram lamb is entered in the upcoming Cheviot sale in Dungannon on September 3.”

Irwin was elected chairman of the North Country Cheviot NI Club last year and is delighted to say that the popularity of the breed has increased over the past few years with many new flocks being registered and new members welcomed into the society.

Irwin puts the success of the breed down to their hardiness to survive, longevity of the ewe, good milk producers, and their good motherly instincts to rear good lambs. The Doughertys have found that the Cheviot ewe, whether bred pure or crossed with other breeds, produces a terrific ewe lamb for breeding.

The popularity and demand for North Country Cheviots has seen a massive increase over the past few years as more and more sheep farmers realise the versatility and ability of this great breed!

With a very successful first sale last year and now the Cheviot Sale being firmly established in the sheep calendar, the Doughertys with the Curryfree flock hope to produce pedigree ewe lambs and shearling rams for years to come if living and spared.

n There will be an opportunity for all to purchase pedigree North Country Cheviots (Park and Hill Type) and other first crosses, including a large entry of Cheviot mules, at the 2nd Annual Show and Sale at Dungannon Farmers’ Mart on Thursday, September 3, at 12.30pm.

With a total entry of some 270 sheep this really is a sale not to be missed.

n For any further details please contact NINCC Club Secretary Steven Thompson on 07739 095834 or NINCC Club Vice Chairman Allister McNeill on 07921 615622.

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