North Country Cheviot Sheep Society
Although very much a native breed, one theory of how the ancestors of the North Country Cheviot reached British shores is via a shipwreck. The story goes that a ship, supposed fleeing the Spanish Armada, crashed off the shore of west coast of northern England/southern Scotland and the sheep onboard swam ashore to make their home in the Cheviot Hills. Whether there is any truth in this story is of course impossible to say. However, the first time sheep living in the Cheviot Hills were documented was in 1370 and one reason for the belief the sheep came from elsewhere is their white face, which differed significantly from the black faced sheep which predominated in the region at the time.
The Cheviot’s first real champion was noted agriculturalist Sir John Sinclair who in 1791 oversaw the formation of the British Wool Society. At the time, the principle revenue of sheep flocks was the wool clip, so unsurprisingly, many breeders were attempting to create breeds that optimised wool production.
To achieve this, Sir John took long wool sheep from the Cheviot region up to his estate in the east coast of Sutherland and found they thrived in the colder, harsher conditions. Impressed by their performance, he then moved them to his estates in Caithness, believing the Cheviot to be the perfect mountain sheep in both form and fleece.
Many other breeders advanced the Cheviot type at this time, and the breed was exhibited for the first time at the Royal Highland Show in 1832. The first ram sales took place 22 years later in 1854 at Hawick.
In 1891, the Cheviot Sheep Society was formed and the first flock books – volumes one and two – published in 1893.
After this, the Cheviot breed began to diverge into the different types we know today. One cross, which was carried out to increase the wool yield, was between the Cheviot and the Leicester Longwool, and this is believed to be the ancestor of the North Country Cheviot.
As well as increasing wool yield, this fortuitous cross added size to the North County Cheviot without compromising any of its hardiness or ability to thrive on remote, marginal ground. This set the sheep on the path to becoming the UK’s most versatile hill breed. As the value of the sheep flock shifted from wool to meat, the extra size North Country Cheviot lambs and cross lambs led to better returns for farmers at market, turning the Northie into the premier of the Cheviot breeds.
The North Country Cheviot is often referred to as “The Northie” - whose temperament also made life easier for the hardy hill farmers that bred the sheep, compared to the other Cheviot breeds.
In 1912, North Country Cheviot Breeders Association was formed by breeders in Caithness and Sutherland for the purposes of holding sales and shows, and in 1945, the association was reformed into the North Country Cheviot Sheep Society that exists today.
The Society was established to promote the interests of this widely dispersed breed. Ram registration was introduced and an annual Flock Book, giving details of all pure bred flocks published.
At present there are over 600 members of the Society in the British Isles, spread throughout the whole of the country from Caithness in the North of Scotland to Cornwall in the South of England and with many flock in Wales, Northern Ireland & Ireland.
The breed has continued to be refined by experience and committed breeders, but always with performance and function in mind, so it has never lost its true vocation as a hardy, versatile, commercially advantageous hill breed.
As a result, the ‘Northie’ is the complete all-rounder – a native breed that thrives in all parts of the UK. It has truly stood the test of time because of its proven track record of producing what the market demands – quality and value without compromise – hence our hashtag #NothingCanCompare.