Updated: Mar 25
Builder Ally Baird admits to being a bit of a perfectionist and since he first got his eye on Zwartble sheep he has applied these principles to establishing his flock.
Ally’s first introduction to farming was helping out with the flock run by his wife Moyra’s father near Dunblane in Perthshire.
“I am a builder first and foremost,” said Ally, who established his business Ally Baird Building and Roofing Services 14 years ago which he runs from Greystone Cottage, Dunblane.
“My father in law Miller McLaren was running 350 white sheep which Moyra and I were helping out with. I first got my eye on Zwartbles at a show and liked the breed,” said Ally. His love of livestock is probably in the genes as his grandfather was a farmer.
“Then I went to my first sale of Zwartbles in Stirling in September 2011 and I paid ‘enough’ money for my first six pedigree ewes and a ram. On Christmas Day that year I made the fatal error of saying I was going to compete at the Highland Show the next year.”
Ally has taken his entry into the world of pedigree sheep breeding very seriously realising it is vital to market the breed and his own flock at shows and sales across the UK to achieve any return from his investment.
“It was a very steep learning curve and you have to do the donkey work, but if you don’t learn quickly you don’t get on - you have got to have an end product, whether it’s prime lamb or show sheep, otherwise you are wasting time, effort and money,” said Ally, who has learned from watching others prepare and show sheep.
“It has got to be a good sheep to begin with but it’s about preparation and showmanship and not about having deep pockets. For me, this is a hobby, but it has to wash its face,” he added.
In 2012 at the Highland Show he was still learning the ropes and how to prepare the sheep for the show ring and while he didn’t get any tickets he vowed he would be back to win.
In 2016 he went back to compete and won the Zwartbles championship at the Ingliston event with a home-bred gimmer.
He repeated the success in 2017 with a full sister to the previous year’s breed champion, following it up with the Zwartable National Show championship, also held at the Highland last year. In 2017 Greystone Destiny won the Scottish national Zwartble championship at Biggar Show.
Marketing of the sheep is also done via social media including Facebook.
The ewes lamb from December and within 10 days of lambing the lambs are introduced to creep feed to help prepare those with showing and breeding potential. Six ewe lambs are retained each year as flock replacements.
“It takes a lot of effort to get a show team ready for the early events and this year, with the grass growth being late in coming, will be particularly difficult for everyone,” said Ally.
The mother of the two champions, a Tardoes ewe, has since been flushed and lambs from recipients are on the ground this spring and are next year’s show potentials. Both are by a homebred tup Greystone Alan by the original ram bought with the foundation ewes which has had semen collected.
This year there are six sheep lined-up for the show team - two ewes, a gimmer, two ewe lambs and a ram lamb.
The Greystone flock now numbers 35 pedigree breeding ewes. They are run on 22 acres of owned and rented ground at Greystone Cottage and Miller still helps out at lambing time and when needed. Ally also has a small flock of six Blue Texels. Ally has no intention of closing the Zwartble flock and is keen to keep introducing new bloodlines.
He and fellow breeder Colin Rae who runs the Wallacetown flock at Dumfries, visited Holland in 2015 to bring different bloodlines into the country, importing 32 ewe lambs and seven ram lambs. Among the successes of the imports, sons and daughters of one of the imported rams are doing well on the show circuit.
Greystone Zwartables have sold to a top price of 1,700gns at Stirling for a six month old ewe lamb out of a Brotherton ewe and by the original Tardoes stock ram.
Last year at the breed’s premier sale in Carlisle a homebred ewe lamb sold for 1,200gns.
This year there will be 16 pedigree Zwartbles to sell through the society sales at Carlisle and Stirling in August as well as others to sell privately.
Ally is keen to highlight the merits of the Zwartble as a commercial ewe with the ability to be crossed with any breed.
“The Zwartable is an excellent crossing breed. Zwartable ewes are milky and have excellent maternal instincts,” he said.
He has a rigorous selection policy for breeding sheep and any not kept for breeding are sold finished through the ring at United Auctions in Stirling.
Ally has always relied on TagFaster, the ear tagging system from Scottish Borders manufacturer Roxan, even with the commercial sheep. One of the reasons is that he wants to support a Scottish based business but also he says the service is ‘second to none’.
“The Roxan tags are small which I prefer because a big tag detracts from the sheep, particularly if it is a pedigree show sheep. The tags are simple and easy to use,” said Ally. “Importantly, the retention is very good.”
Since starting the Zwartble flock, Ally has continued to use the TagFaster ear tagging system which he has found to be reliable both with the tag, its application, retention and readability, and the service provided by the team based in Selkirk.
The flock’s first Highland Show championship would not have been achieved without the rapid response of Roxan providing a replacement tag within 24 hours.
The replacement for a tag which was causing irritation was needed only two days before the ewe was due to be shown and that would not have been possible without the replacement ear tag being printed and delivered in time by Roxan’s Scotland sales representative Louise Mercer.
Ally is also a judge for the Zwartble Sheep Association and has judged at events across the UK and Ireland.
As well as good conformation, the breed standard requires at least two white feet - if only two these must be the back feet - a white blaze on its face and no white wool elsewhere on its body.