I apologize for indulging myself in this manner, but I am taking the liberty of recalling my long journey with North Country sheep spanning over 70 years on both sides of the Atlantic. I hope at least some viewers might find my trip down memory lane of interest.
My grandfather's undefeated show ram from way back in 1955. Pictured at Caithness County show, an event I maintain is the largest NCC show in the world. - home of the breed.
My grandfather had not only the NCC champion, that day ,but also the Shorthon champion and even champion in thje poultry tent with a beautiful Black Minorca hen.
He was 72 then. The local paper described him as "a hale and hearty veteran"
Some of our ewes prior to major flock reduction, 2020. Thus my North Country History has run around 70 years so far.
The coyotes ran us out of sheep in WV in the eighties, but I never doubted the day would come again. The breed needs some fresh genetics from Scotland, but this has not been possible for years, though some folks are still working hard to make it happen. There are some recently imported genetics in Canada but we cannot get at them either, for now.
My maternal grandfather John Doull was a well known sheep and cattle farmer in Caithness, Scotland's barren northernmost mainland county . My father practiced anesthesia in Edinburgh, but from around the age of ten, I spent every summer on the farm up north with the Shorthorn cattle and North Country Cheviot sheep, which soon determined how I would spend my life. My mother's brother Alasdair was a CSM in the Seaforth Highlanders and sadly died in Holland late in WWII aged 29. His widow Bunty a wonderful lady, took care of the old man and much of the farm business until he died aged 94.
Pictured above are my grandfather's great old ram, Noss Champion, undefeated in several shows, on right beside his yearling son, Remiggy Style. I took the picture in 1955 the day before Noss Champion won for the final time. He and 6 of his sons went to the Thurso Ram Sale, where the group posted the highest flock average, and the old ram was champion, with over 300 rams on hand, all North Country Cheviot.
That group of rams is shown below in another fuzzy pld picture.
The old fuzzy photo above shows what a massive powerful sheep he was. The preparation for the show included careful blocking of the fleece with hand shears, and staining the wool brown with burnt umber to better highlight the the head and bone. The head and legs were painted with zinc oxide paste which made then snow white. Some zinc oxide powder tied inside a nylon stocking made a powder puff to touch them up. I expect that nowadays there are products available especially made for the job. In U.S.A. the show sheep's fleeces are thoroughly washed. In Scotland never, in those days, so they were pretty greasy.
We had Jimmy, an expert clipper man trimming the rams for the sale. He and I came in for lunch. My parents were visiting, so Jimmy talked to my father at lunch about his chronic stomach ache. After we went back to the sheep barn, Aunt Bunty asked my dad if he knew what might be wrong with Jimmy's stomach.
"Not really. Do you?"
"Yes" Bunty affirmed., "Burnt with alcohol!"
My grandfather bought Noss Champion as a yearling at the 1953 Thurso ram sale where he was champion ram.
He was next champion at the Caithnees Show where the North Country sheep are always the main event.
Two years after his debut, the ram was back in Thurso, as a three year old at the ram sale. Picking the champion, the yearling judge wanted his champion ram to win. The judge of the older rams wanted Noss Champion, his winner to prevail. Lacking a consensus ,the judge of the female sheep was called upon ,a female herself, Janet Gill, from the quaintly named Portmahomack in Ross-shire.
She stood between the rams and put a hand on each ram's top. We knew it was over then. None had a top like Noss Champion, so he won for the final time.
Many years later in 1969, my boss Mr Willis and I took a trip to Scotland ,and ate a delicious meal in Janet Gill.s house after she had shown us a Shorthorn bull on her farm.
on left with his six sons, headed for the Thurso Ram Sale where he was Champion ram and they posted high flock sale average. He had been champion there as a yearling.
Fuzzy old photo - my equipment in those days was not exactly state of the art.
KNOCKGLASS TRUE FORM
Great breeding ram in Scotland in the 1950s
Highland Show Champion.
Sire and grandsire of the Westcaith ewes we imported from Canada pictured below.
Reserve to Noss Champion, Caithness County Show 1955
Follwing high school, I spent a year at Westdrums, one of the leading Shorthon herds, near Brechin in the county of Angus. Export business for breeding cattle was booming in those days. Our top bull sold to Argentina, one to Michigan, one to New Jersey and a set of heifers went to Texas. There were also Russians looking, but the prices scared them off. I learned a lot at Westdrums .I got to travel with the show and sale cattle all over. The Highland Show in Aberdeen, The Royal Show in Oxford, England , The Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate, England, and the Perth Bull Sale back in Scotland. We worked hard but played hard too since the farm even had it's own soccer team. Us younger guys practiced every night till dark in summer. Next I studied at the North of Scotland College of Agriculture in Aberdeen. Following graduation, I went to work on a 4000 acre sheep farm on the Isle of Mull, but I was plotting something else. I had closely followed the Shorthorn cattle breed in the United States since in those days there was a strong export demand from North America. Most of the top herds had imported bulls from Scotland, and some even had imported herdshen. I decided to seek my fortune across the Atlantic, and was offered a job in the state of Maryland with an up and coming Shorthorn herd. I was unaware that Maryland was not exactly cattle country. I have often been asked why I chose to leave Scotland. I really had no idea how long I might stay away. I was an adventurer, like many of my countrymen. But we proud Scots never forget the old country. The adventure continues.
My transatlantic journey began in June 1965 when our plane landed in Baltimore. The captain, as we descended said the temperature was 97. This was more heat than I had ever faced in my life. I had my Harris Tweed sport coat on and sweat was soon running down my spine. I met Mr. Willis my new boss at the gate and we were shortly in his Ford Galaxie with the air conditioner providing me cool comfort. Soon we were cruising high above the Chesapeake Bay on the magnificent Bay Bridge which Mr. Willis mentioned he had helped plan. His main business was broiler chickens. His company handled 40 million birds a year, which he suggested was a small company compared to the competition. His cattle farms were waterfront located, and he mentioned that he had considered running sheep on one of them, but was not sire what breed to get. I told him I knew which breed I would like, but had no idea where to find any. We had a neighbor who managed a top Suffolk operation, Wye House nearby. This was Bob Offord, who had left Scotland aged 18 and farmed in Canada for 30 years before taking the job in Maryland. He became a good friend and counselor. I asked Bob if there were any good North Country sheep in Canada. He assured me that there were, and mentioned that every year he attended the Canadian Royal Show in Toronto, the best North Country sheep always came from the same man, Stan Bagg in Ontario. Mr.Willis and I were planning to attend two Shorthorn sales in Ontario that fall, so decided on looking at sheep in the area as well. We found Stan Bagg and his impressive sheep, and soon were in the North Country business. We met a Shorthorn manager with a good Scottish name, Duncan McTavish who had sheep from Stan's genetics, so bought some ewes from him too. One of Dunk's sons, Donald came to work for us and was my right hand man for two years. We actually traded a good Shorthorn bull to Dunk for ten ewe lambs. One of my new Shorthorn buddies, Bob Magill a husky North Dakotan who managed the Lewisfield herd in Virginia, wanted to know how much we sold the bull to Canada for. When I told him ten sheep, he was incredulous,
"What a lousy deal!" he ranted to my amusement Evidently not a sheep man.
I was telling someone at the WV State Fair that they should look at our website They would see pictures of me when I was a young "pretty boy" some forty years ago. A passing comedian overheard me. "Pretty boy forty years ago? You'd have to go back much longer than that."
Above is pictured the Champion North Country Cheviot ram, 1968 Canadian Royal, top seller Sale of the Stars, with from left, myself, Sttan Bagg breeder, my girlfriend Merrilyn from Australia, and Stan's handler.
BACK TO THE SOURCE
Mr Willis and myself pictured at the Caithness County Show on our trip to Scotland in 1969. We landed the day after the first manned moon landing and soon visited a Shorthorn herd near Edinburgh. The lady who came to the farmhouse door asked if we were the Americans. When I confirmed that, she exclaimed ,
" I'm so glad you got to the moon before the Russians!"
Of course the Scots were proud since Neil Armstrong had a very Scottish name and likely a Celtic pedigree.
We later drove up north near my birthplace Inverness, and I thought I should show Mr.Willis the celebrated Loch Ness nearby. As we drove along the shore road, we came upon a group of people looking at something of interest at the water's edge. Being rather curious, we parked and walked closer. Here sitting on a trailer in the shallows was a little yellow one man submarine.
( The Beatles had lately sung about yellow submarines)
There was a young guy on duty minding the craft. We asked him about it. He said that a man from Georgia, U.S.A. called Dan Taylor had built it especially to look for the Loch Ness Monster. I asked the guy what was the man in the sub supposed to do if he encountered the monster itself.
"Try to get close enough to get a biopsy sample."
I suspected that assignment might be a tad on the risky side, since I presumed that a biopsy sample would involve hacking a piece off the beast's hindquarters or tail..
Along the shore we saw a big orange diving bell hanging on a crane. That belonged to Vickers-Armstrong, a major engineering firm who were testing the diving bell since Loch Ness is the deepest fresh water body in Europe at 800 feet. The bell had sonar gear on board, and the company said they would be testing it out, and could report on anything unusual.
The guy told us they had recently tracked something they estimated thirty feet long moving under the water nearby.
(50 years later, I met a guy in Hot Springs,VA who said he used to work for a company that supplied sonar equipment to "Operation Deepscan", an effort in 1987to find the monster using a string of 24 boats across the loch. He said he was on the "Today" show talking about it. They failed to locate anything that time.)
We headed north and soon were in Caithness, visiting my grandfather, Aunt Bunty and her son, Cousin Ian.
I was pleased that those folks got to meet my new Amerucan boss.
A couple of years later, I was back in Caithness showing off Julie, my new American wife. That was the last time we saw my grandfather.
Bagg ewes from Canada with their first lambs
Willis ram lamb with our own Canadian handler, Donald McTavish.
Stan Bagg helped us put a deal together to buy the top cut of 30 ewes from a Manitoba operation called Westcaith that included extensive Scottish genetics. This deal was finalized on our honeymoon in 1970. Julie and were married in Maryland and set off to Canada. Of course I have been harassed about making sheep deals on our honeymoon, but survived. Julie is a North Carolina native, and was teaching school in Maryland nearby..
In 1972, I thought it might be worthwhile to look for some outcross sheep in Eastern Canada and wrote to the Canadian Government to see if we could get some help. They told us they would have someone to meet us if we drove to Fredsricton, New Brunswick on a certain day. Julie and I set off ,about 800 miles. Mr. Parker was our man, and he drove us through scenic New Brunswick, saw some sheep with a French speaking farmer and on to Nova Scotia, where I was pleased to see a young man playing the bagpipes at the border. We looked at sheep briefly, then took the ferry to glorious Prince Edward Island. We had not yet found what we sought until we got to Allison Stewart's place near Charlottetown, P.E.I.
I told him we could use four rams.
" My brother has a few sheep across the road. We'll look there first."
The few sheep we found included the best North Country ewe I had ever seen in North America. She had a ram lamb.
"Is he for sale?" One down. He was Frenchfort Lad 2D. Allison told us he knew of a "pretty fair sheep" maybe for sale " up the country," as he put it, a place called Souris. I asked what the price might be.
"I think you could buy that sheep for $150". We drove as directed and found George Campbell, a friendly older gentleman in poor health. He suggested we go out behind the house and look at the ram there. We walked out the back door and there stood a big ram with two Hampshire ewes. Now we're getting somewhere.
" There's the sheep we came back to Canada for", I announced dramatically to Julie and we went back inside to make the deal.
"How much do you want for that ram? We like him."
"I think a ram like that is worth $200"
"I think he is too!" and we had bought Breeze Acres 21A ("George") ( Pictured above) Allison found is two more rams, including one from the quaintly named Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. (Where Anne Murray, one of our favorite Canadians took piano lessons as a child) We drove the long road home, pleased at having the job well done. Before long we drove back to Canada to get the rams.
But that's another story.
The name NOVA SCOTIA means "New Scotland" and the province can boast of many Scottish immigrants over the years including some of my kinfolk long ago.
Nova Scotia, specifically Cape Breton Island has a renowned tradition of Scottish music, particularly on the fiddle. Best known in modern times would be Natalie MacMaster whom I was privileged to talk to in Roanoke, Virginia after she and her group performed in concert. Years earlier we had heard Natalie's uncle Buddy play, regarded as the king of the Cape Breton fiddlers. His piano player was Maybelle Macqueen, but I failed to ask her if we might be kin.
There are some old traditional tunes heard in Cape Breton that have died out in Scotland
The operation was named "Westcaith" which suggeated Caithness sheep in the west. I was told that their foundation ewes came frm Scotland, and one of the owners was a Scottish breeder.
In the far right is "Bill" our first Border Collie. He came from Henry Kuykendall, then in PA, now in NC still in the Border Collie business.
After eight fruitful years with Mr.Willis, we decided to try it on our own account. We had a friend from West Virginia, Ralph Warren, who bought both sheep and cattle from the Maryland farm. That Eastern Shore area was not exactly cattle or sheep country, low lying ,hot and humid. Ralph assured us what we needed was to move to "God's Country" which according to him was the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia. We sold him a set of 20 ewe lambs and I told him we would deliver them and look around. We were impressed when we got there, and asked Ralph if he could possibly locate us a farm to rent. We certainly could not afford to buy.
Ralph found us a 400 acre farm, not in his Greenbrier County, but in adjoining Pocahontas County. With help from Julie's family, and the bank, we were able to finance our new livestock operation, buying a herd of top commercial cows from Mr.Willis. A couple of them had Chianina bull calves at side. I had used Chianina semen from Italy and Mr Willis got a big price for the halfblood heifer calves. One of then went on to top the fisrt Eastern Regional Chianina Sale held in, would you believe, Madison Square Garden. Mr. Willis graciously gifted us 20 North Country ewes and a ram.- our pick. His flock had grown to 100 fine ewes, so I picked mostly the older Canadian ewes and "George" from Prince Edward Island.
We moved to West Virginia in 1973, and had a good helper. Mike Nicholas was a farmer's son from New Zealand we had met - I found him a lot of sheep to shear in Maryland, and he offered to help us move and get our first cut hay made in our new home. He planned to see America, in particular the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. (I told him the Canyon would be great, but he could keep Las Vegas)
Our sheep greatly bloomed from their move to sheep country, and we were soon pleased to provide stock for several new flocks. Folks like Elbert Holnes, Hillsboro, WV Bob Totten, Ronceverte, WV, Carl Armstrong, Monterey,VA. Yuvonne Snyder, Maysville,WV, Denver Gandee, Spencer,WV and Tim Blakely, Looneyville WV. to name a few.
IN !1978,WE BOUGHT THE NATIONAL CHAMPION RAM LAMB IN MACOMB ILLINOIS FROM BILL STEPHEN, CALGARY ,ALBERTA. (RIGHT ABOVE)
The coyotes moved in around 1980, and we were forced out of the sheep business due my inability to protect them. In those days, guard dogs seemed a rare commodity. We lived in West Virginia 23 years before moving to Iowa in 1996 to manage a 400 cow Salers cattle operation. The primary owner died the day we got there, so things started to unravel. We still stayed two years ,enjoyed the rural Iowa scene and some fine neighbors, but then moved back east.
Mr Willis lived to be 101, and enjoyed his sheep until late in the game. He was a fine gentleman of wisdom and integrity. I was blessed indeed that he allowed me to undertake several livestock projects especially the North Country Cheviots. His flock is still intact, now in the capable hands of Susan Davies at Hurlock, MD. Mr. Willis was honored, being inducted into the North Country Cheviot Hall of Fame in 1999 as was I in 2001.
A great picture taken in 1905, my grandfather was a champion road cyclist in his younger days. He set some record times that stood for many years. He lived to be 94. I did not inherit his good looks or athleticism. Maybe some longevity.
He enjoyed whiskey. When Grandpa was on his deathbed, the doctor told Aunt Bunty that he could have a "dram" once a day if he wished.
One day as she took him his dram, Bunty noticed the whiskey was lapping over the glass, and scolded herself.
"Oh Grandpa, I put too much whiskey in your glass!"
"That's all right lass,
it'll just take me a wee while longer to drink it."
LATHERON CHURDHYARD , looking south on the east coast in Caithness, scenic last resting place of my grandfather, Aunt Bunty and Cousin Ian. This is the North Sea. Long ago this area was invaded by the Vikings whose homeland Norway lies some 500 miles to the East. (If I ever get my DNA sampled, they will probably find I am at least half Norse.
I WAS THREE WHEN MY DAD RETURNED FROM THE WAR, WHERE HE SERVED MAINLY IN NORTH AFRICA. I DID NOT KNOW WHO HE WAS AND HID BEHIND A TREE.