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The Shetland Cheviot: Future Farming in Orkney

A HARDY sheep cross is helping one farming couple in Orkney plan for a future without direct farm payments.

Brian and Fiona Ridland

Brian and Fiona Ridland moved down from Shetland to Orkney in 2008 and now run two farms in the island including 400 acres at Aikerness and the Hall of Clestrian, an 1800-acre farm consisting of hill ground along with inbye land which runs down to the sea.

The couple are finding success by crossing tough native breed the North Country Cheviot with the equally tough Shetland ewes to produce the Shetland Cheviot, a sheep that thrives in the hostile island conditions.

The resulting ewes are put to either a Texel or a Suffolk with 80% of lambs being sold as stores and 20% sold straight off grass as prime lambs, directly to the processor.

Brian described the North Country Cheviot as the ‘backbone’ of the flock as it is so well adapted to the conditions on Orkney.

As well as the commercial flock of 800 Shetland Cheviot ewes, the couple also run a pure bred North Country Cheviot hill-type flock of around 150 ewes.

Brian said: “The land suits the North Country Cheviot well, especially the high, exposed hill ground.

“We used to work with Shetland sheep before we moved to Orkney and spotted the potential the cross would provide, so we put cheviot tup over Shetland ewes to produce a Shetland Cheviot.

“They’re not quite as big as a traditional North Country Cheviot hill sheep and a bit lower set, but very well built, with nice sharp white heads.”

Brian added the ewes make fantastic mothers that milk well, and produce fast growing lambs.

The lambs inherit the thriftiness of the North Country Cheviot, finishing off grass with no creep feed needed for them to achieve their target weight.

The ewes also last well, according to the couple, producing plenty of crops of lambs. Draft or cull ewes still attract good prices too, adding to the return on investment of the hard hill cross.

Fiona said that the North Country Cheviot x Shetland was ‘vitally important’ in moving forward into the unknown as direct payments fall of.

“Sheep that don’t just survive but flourish just off grass are vitally important in making sure that modern flocks can meet the new challenges coming up head on,” she said.

“That is what all sheep breeders are looking for – maximum returns off minimum inputs, which is what the North Country Cheviot and the Shetland Cheviot are achieving. It underlines the versatility of the North Country Cheviot hill type as the ideal breed.”

As well as their sheep enterprise, Brian and Fiona also run a suckler herd of Luing and Sim-Luing cattle.

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