This week, I’m chatting all things Cheviot with James Metcalfe, a pedigree breeder from Derbyshire. I worked with James last year on a lambing job in Cheshire and we’ve kept in contact ever since.
I hope you enjoy learning a little more about James’ enterprise and the Cheviot breed!
James: What’s your farming background?
James Metcalfe: Been brought up on a National Trust hill farm in Edale in the Peak District, 345 acres of various types of grazing, mostly unimproved.
The farm has changed over the years, when I was a small child there was dairying here though I only have a vague memory of it. Since then it has been all sheep, until the last couple of years ,when HLS has seen the introduction of native beef.
My grandfather farmed a flock of Swales on the hill and Masham ewes on the lowland, breeding his own replacements, but since my Dad took over the farm has been run with a flock of Mules with bought in replacements. We are in a transitional period at the moment between the next generational swap, and for the last 6 years I have been building up my own flock with the aim of taking over. My passion is North Country Cheviots.
I have a registered flock which, with next years replacements taken into account, stands at 90 females. I love my sheep and keep several other breeds as well. My background is very traditional, but I am keen to experiment, having tried both sponging for early lambing and also AI in the last couple of years, something previous generations of this family wouldn’t have even dared to try.
J: As a farmers son, did you always want to farm?
JM: Yes, nothing else I have wanted to do but farm sheep! Though, I did spend some of my early 20s trying to convince myself I didn’t and tried other things but the call was too strong.
J: What kind of other things did you turn your hand to?
JM: I had about 3 years landscaping and a couple of years scaffolding, didn’t go so well as I don’t like heights, still came home at weekends to help with the big jobs and took my holidays at lambing.
J: What made you opt for a flock of pedigree NCC? Derbyshire isn’t really traditional Cheviot country.
JM: No it’s not! It was a bit by luck really. When my Dad finally relented and let me have a few acres to get my teeth into, I was looking at what breed to have and a flock of pedigree NCC was being dispersed nearby in Macclesfield. So, I decided to take a bit of a punt having been to see them. At the time I thought, like many folk, that the Cheviot was a small sheep, my only real experience of Cheviots was seeing the South Countrys, but having seen Park Type Northies in the flesh, and seeing the size and power I never wanted anything else. Luckier still, I was first to contact them and managed to get first pick of the ewes! I came away with 7 ewes to found the Greenhills flock, I didn’t have a great amount of knowledge of the NCC at the time, but managed to get into what is probably the fastest growing sheep breed in the UK at the moment at just the right time.
J: For those who may not know much about the NCC can you give a basic intro to the breed and the differences between the different types?
JM: There are essentially 3 types of Cheviot; North Country, South Country and Brecknock Hill Cheviots. The South and the Brecknock are fairly small, tough mountain sheep, with the South Country mainly found in the Borders between England and Scotland and the Brecknock pretty much exclusively on the Brecon Beacons.
The North Country is a slightly more diverse breed, there is the hill or Lairg type, which again is a small tough sheep suited to the heather hill, though slightly larger than the other two hill types.
Then there is the Park type Northies. They split again into two distinct types, Caithness and Border type. The Park ewe is the largest hill breed in the UK, and not well suited to the very top of the hill, but does well in the margins and if put on good pasture will do as well as any lowland ewe. My Park types have scanned 189.4% this year. The Caithness type is heavier boned than the border type, though both are registered as the same type in the flock book.
In my own flock, I like to infuse both types and have a heavier boned ewe that’s not too extreme.
Northies are one of the best mothering breeds I have worked with, I was extremely surprised just how much milk they had! They produce lambs with tremendous carcass that get to heavy weights without much pushing, they can be deceptive when you think your looking at a 35kg lamb and stick it on the scales to find out its 50kg! Northies are growing in popularity and there are now over 80 registered flocks in England and 50 in Wales.
J: What are your ambitions for the Greenhills flock?
JM: To do the best I possibly can, the sky is the limit really! I will keep trying to improve my bloodlines and the quality of the flock, it’s still in its infancy at the moment ,with ewes bought in from several flocks. There is a lot of inconsistency in them at the moment. First thing to do is to get them evened up and how I want them. I want to build on what we have achieved in the show ring, so far we have done well at local level, winning a few red rosettes, but with time I would like to compete at a higher level and maybe take sheep to show in Scotland. Ultimately, I would like to be well known as a breeder of high quality Cheviots but that will take time and hard work. I guess if you don’t set your goals high then you don’t have a lot to strive for.
J: It’d be great to see you at the Highland! What does 2017 have in store for you and the flock?
JM: Not the Highland yet, but that is an aim one day! 2017, well as they say you never know in farming! Lambing is just round the corner, then we will be in to the showing season, we have Leek in July, then Sykehouse, Ashover, Mottram and the English National at Hope in August, finishing at Hayfield in September. It shows the progress of the breed. 3 or 4 years agom I would have been competing in the any other breed class, now Hope, Mottram and Hayfield all have NCC classes in their own right. I’ll be looking forward to getting into my new role on the society council, then to the ram sales in the autumn! Hopefully, we will have something decent to take this year. We did some AI work in Autumn 2015 using semen from a very good tup. The progeny of that will be at some of the society sales and I am excited to see how they will do.
You can keep up to date with the Greenhills pedigree flock on Facebook . If you’d like to find out more about the breed, you can visit the North Country Cheviot society website, or why not go and see the some of the breed’s finest (including the Greenhills flock) in action at the National Show, taking place at Hope Show, Derbyshire on August 28th.