Calum Macdonald remains dedicated to the Celtic influence after more than 30 years. He began his farming career south of the Border with Welsh Mountain ewes and they continue to remain the backbone of the farming business after returning to his home roots. 

“Quite simply we found Welsh Mountains suit this unit,” explains Calum who farms with his wife, Pam and son, Thomas, Whitedyke Farm, a hill and upland unit near Newton Stewart. 

“We’ve adopted a minimal input, low-cost regime – just what Welsh Mountains were bred for,” he says. “They’re a good maternal sheep which thrive on our grass-based system; we still get the output without feeding as much concentrate, while nowadays we also have the added benefit of being able to select our tups more carefully having access to performance recorded improved Welsh Mountain, a Tregarron Llandovery mix, from the Prohill marketing group. 

“Last season the 650-ewe scanned at 174% and reared 165%, lambed outdoors from mid-April with 90% lambing within the first cycle. We tup 200 of our best performing ewes to pure Welsh tups to breed our replacements. The remaining 450 ewes go to the Aberfield tups and then sell the ewe lambs for breeding.”

Thomas says since investing in Welsh Mountain tups from the Prohill group for the last three years the flock has already stepped up its overall performance. “The ewes recorded a better scan – up 20% and weaning up 25%. These tups have been bred from performance recorded flocks managed in extensive, forage-based systems and they fit our strategy to become more efficient. While I like the look of a good sheep, looks and fashion has been the ruination of a lot of breeds. However, now you can use EBVs to make decisions, then why not use the tools together with your stockman’s eye. We look at the maternal EBVs and in particular, we select for milk. More milk means faster growth and quicker to reach target weight.”

The Macdonalds farm 320 owned acres together with 700 rented hill acres where they winter their 90 Beef Shorthorn cross Highlander suckler cows which are bred to the Charolais. Calves are sold at weaning at Castle Douglas market in October. “This is essentially a rearing unit, so we want as many lives away as quickly as possible in order to keep more breeding stock, and maintain its viability consequently nothing is finished, we don’t have the resources,” Calum explains.

“The Aberfield ewe lambs are tupped and sold in lamb in early spring to a repeat buyer. We sell all the wether lambs at an average of 34kg at 14 weeks to another repeat customer.” He says the Welsh Mountain is helping to maximize stocking rate whilst reflecting longevity. “Ewes are maturing around 60kg, they’re averaging five lamb crops and they’re able to keep themselves in body condition score 3 to 3.5, 365, in hard conditions.

“The ewes are routinely away from October to end of December on dairy tack where they’re flushed and then introduced the tups on 20 November at a ratio of one to 65 ewes. We’ve found this grazing regime results in an extra 12% to 15% of lambs and then they benefit from coming back home to fresh grazing. We feed supplementary hay or silage while concentrate is reserved for twins and triplets for three weeks pre lambing.”

After lambing, ewes with twins and triplets are split in to three mobs, they’re moved on every 10 days and feature in a rotation with the cows and calves while ewes with singles are moved onto the poorer ground.

Calum adds: “We are more than aware that as the payments dwindle, we have to become more and more efficient and everything has to pay its own way; there’s no room for passengers. We have to use all the available tools and as far as our flock genetics are concerned, we’re happy with the Welsh Mountains and in particular how the Prohill bred are fitting in to our low input system.”