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Calm before the storm at Scotsheep host farm

HOSTS: The McNees are well known as successful breeders of both pedigree sheep and cattle.

Calving is in full swing at Over Finlarg, the last lambs from the 1100-ewe flock are being born, and the cattle sheds that will host sheep industry enthusiasts in just three weeks’ time are still full of livestock and dung.

Yet Robert and Hazel McNee seem only slightly daunted by the scale of the work ahead of them as they prepare for at least 5000 visitors to descend on their farm near Dundee for the long-anticipated Scotsheep extravaganza.

Expectations of a great day out at Finlarg are high among sheep producers as the National Sheep Association’s event has been postponed three times because of Covid, and the hosts are well known as successful breeders of both pedigree sheep and cattle.

At the heart of their unit on the edge of the Sidlaws is a flock of North Country Cheviot Lairg-type ewes which runs alongside 200 Blackfaces, 60 Texels and 40 traditional and crossing type Bluefaced Leicesters.

Some of the core flock at Finlarg .

There is also a separate flock of 200 home-bred Texel cross and Mule ewe hoggs tupped to the Beltex to sell as hoggs with lambs at foot which have topped at £230 when sold at Stirling.

However, most impressive is the new centre record set by the McNees at Longtown in 2021 when a pen of their Cheviot Mule gimmers sold for £232 per head.

The suckler cow herd includes pedigree Limousins, Luings, Simmentals and Charolais and around 25 bulls are sold for breeding each year. The top price achieved by the farm for Luings was the 18,000gns paid for Finlarg Warrior at Castle Douglas in 2019, while Limousins have sold to 11,500gns at Stirling.

The view from the top of Finlarg hill.

The couple have made significant improvements to the 740-acre farm since they moved in 11 years ago with major investments in buildings. fencing, lime spreading and drainage.

Around 75 acres of cereals and 25 acres of turnips grown for home consumption on the best land, otherwise the farm, which rises from 800ft to 1200ft, is mainly grassland, with Less Favoured Area status only kicking in above 900ft. The couple also rent 40 acres of grass and a 400-acre heather hill from a neighbour.

“I’d say we’re very self-sufficient,” said Robert.

All roads will lead to Over Finlarg on June 1.

“We produce most of the bulky forages and just buy in minerals and some additional specific proteins.

“We try to keep the number of lorries bringing stuff into the farm as low as possible and anything we do bring in is high end.

“All stock is sold deadweight – cattle to ABP and sheep to Scotbeef – and we try to maximise output using every corner of the farm.”

Scotsheep day will see convoys of tractors and trailers transporting visitors to the top of Finlarg Hill to see the farm laid out below, and they’ll also enjoy panoramic views across Angus, Perthshire and Fife.

Local historian David Orr will be at the summit to give a potted history of the area and offer a dram from nearby Ogilvie Distillery, and another stop on the tour will be to Donald Barrie from the James Hutton Institute and representatives from the Luing Cattle Society who will discuss the benefits of rough grazing on hill land.

Willy Miller (chair of the organising committee), Steven Buchan (Virgin Money), Hazel and Robert McNee and Brian Richardson ( Virgin Money).

The seminars which will run throughout the day include sessions on flock health, the Scotch Lamb label, carbon, getting a foot on the farming ladder, breeding sheep that are “fit for purpose”, condition scoring of ewes and the power of social media. There will also be seminars on a range of animal diseases.

Other highlights of the day are an auction of sheep – including two Cheviot hoggs for charity – a fencing competition for contractors, a lamb butchery and cookery demonstration and sheep dog trials featuring 32 top handlers from Angus, Perthshire and South Aberdeenshire.

There will be crook making, sheep shearing and dressing demonstrations, stockjudging competitions, trade stands and workshops.

Sheep farmers will be in for a treat on June 1.

Around 150 volunteers will help to run the event on June 1, but the meantime the focus at Finlarg is getting stock out on to grass then cleaning, disinfecting and preparing the buildings for what’s sure to be one of the farming highlights of 2022.

Scotsheep takes place on Wednesday June 1 from 9am-5pm at Over Finlarg Farm, Tealing, Dundee DD4 0QE. Admission: Adults £20, children under 15 free. Organisers are asking visitors to buy tickets online at www.nationalsheep.org.uk/nsa-scotland/scotsheep in advance to avoid queues on the day.

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