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Eastside Farm through the seasons



Eastside & the Cowan family


Winter ewes in lamb

Blackface the heft


Spring lambing

e sheep


Late Autumn tupping time


Summer marking and clipping



Early Autumn sheep sales

Eastside & The Cowan Family The Cowan family have run a hill sheep

(or quad bike) has allowed for the welfare

farm in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh

standards to be maintained with one man

for five generations now. Eastside Farm

covering a much larger area than a shepherd

is 1230 hectares in area (the equivalent of

on foot did previously. At Eastside, the sheep

2000 football pitches joined together) and

are virtually wild, enjoying a happy healthy free

it encompasses some of the best known hills

range life on the hills.

in the Pentlands such as the South Blackhill, Hare Hill, Scald Law and The Kipps. At its

The Cowans have managed and added to

lowest point the farm is 860 feet above

the diversity of the environment at Eastside

sea-level and rises to 1900 feet at the top

through the planting of trees and wildflower

of Scald Law. It can be a forbidding terrain

meadows and careful hill-ground management.

but is very well suited to Scottish Blackface

It is their hope to preserve and enhance the

sheep as well as numerous wild animals e.g.

spectacular Pentland Hill landscape at Eastside

badgers, foxes, mountain hares, peregrines,

for current and future generations to enjoy and

red grouse and black grouse.


Today the farm is run by Alistair and Susan

This booklet gives a brief insight into sheep

Cowan, following on from Alastair’s father

farming through the seasons at Eastside. We

before them. Eastside is family farm business

hope you find it informative and enjoyable.

with family members pitching in at busy times when extra hands are needed.

Image on front cover: Blackface ewe in the handling

Farming has changed significantly over the

pens at Eastside.

last few years with the number of shepherds

This page: Hill grasses on the East Kipp looking

on Eastside falling from four in 1982 to just

onto the heather covered Scald Law.

one in 2012 due to the tough economics of

Next page: Ewes and lambs gathered in preparation

modern agriculture. The All Terrain Vehicle

for the sales.


Blackface sheep The Heft


lackface female sheep are very hardy

one generation of sheep to the next so they

and can withstand almost all the weather

know where they belong and where they feel

can, and frequently does, throw at them.


They are the most common in Britain but as the majority of these are found in the wilder

For example, the Kipps have a heft of 150

parts of Scotland, many people may be

breeding ewes with their hoggs (one year old

unfamiliar with the way they look. Both males

offspring that are too young to breed from). If

and females have horns, although the male

you visit Eastside you will see some fences and

(or “tup”) horns are bigger as well as their

traditional stone walls (dykes) near and around

body mass. They generally have black faces

the farmstead. These enclose “improved

and a white body although sometimes they

pasture” fields in the valley area. The ewes will

have white or grey faces too - very rarely you

come off the hill into the valley fields where

might see a totally black sheep! Their wool is

there is better grazing during the day but head

very thick and warm and this helps protect

back out to the hill at night by themselves.

them from the weather.

Hefting evens out the grazing pressure and allows the grazing resources to be used

As on many hill farms, there are no fences

efficiently. If the sheep were not hefted, they

on the hill pasture to enclose or separate the

would just hang around the best grazing in the

sheep. Instead of fences, an ancient system

valley all the time and use it all up!

called “hefting” is used. Each hill has it’s own “heft” of sheep that live within a certain area and they recognize this area as their home. Sheep will instinctively gather in their family groups and often several generations of a sheep family can be seen together. Through many years of being herded to the same place, knowledge of the “heft” is passed from 7

Late Autumn


his seems the most logical place to start as it is when the male sheep, “tups”, are

brought together with the ewes to conceive new lambs. The female sheep or ewes are in the peak of health and condition at this time of year from all the rich grazing they’ve consumed

Late Autumn Tupping Time

in the summer. They will need all their extra fat reserves for the winter to come and to provide for themselves and the lambs growing inside them. The ewes come into season in November (i.e.

Just before tupping season when

they’re receptive to a potential mate) and will

hormones start to run high, the

start looking for a handsome tup. However we

tups are moved into the big sheep-shed to keep them out of mischief!

decide when the tups are allowed in with the ewes - this way we avoid early surprises and plan for the lambs to be born when the weather is warmer and there is good grazing to be had.

For much of the year you might see the tups

heavy the tups were snowed out on the hill,

taking things easy in the field in front of our

eventually coming back a few weeks later - a

house. Just before tupping season when

little tired but in good health. Consequently,

hormones start to run high, the tups are

lambing went on for a long time that Spring!

moved into the big sheep-shed to keep them out of mischief! When the time is right, each tup is allowed in with his ewes. It’s important for us to make sure that he stays in the right place and doesn’t stray from his ground and his group of 60-70 ewes. He’ll generally have about 6 weeks to “service” each ewe but with that many there’s not much romance involved -

Images on previous page: Eastside autumn flora,

it’s hard work for him! Between Christmas

Heather, bracken and hill grasses.

and New Year, the tups are brought back to

Images on this page from left: Blackface tups (or

the sheep shed for a well-earned break. In

rams), Blackface tups - the boys are just back from

the winter of 2009/2010 the snow was so

5 weeks work on the hill.


Images clockwise from top left: Blackface Tup,

going home as the sun sets after the gather, The

Hill grasses turn red in the autumn season, The

farm track looking towards the farm and the Kipps

farm track on an autumn afternoon, Old “dykes”

behind, Old “dyke” with autumnal bracken.

or walls surrounding the farm, The Hare Hill sheep




ow that the ewes are “in lamb” they are making the most of their hill environment.

The winter can be a harsh time at Eastside, sometimes with deep snow or cold winds and rain. Being in a cosy cottage toasting your toes by the fire makes you appreciate that surviving

Mid Winter Ewes In Lamb

outdoors is a very different matter, requiring a good knowledge of the local environment. This essential knowledge is something that the sheep at Eastside have passed from generation to generation. In addition, the Blackface sheep

Gathering is quite a spectacle,

has an amazing wool fleece impregnated with

with each heft of several hundred

lanolin for waterproofing to ensure it’s warm all

sheep rounded up by the quad and sheep dogs and herded to the farm handling pens.

winter. Each ewe has a whole hectare of grass to herself (one and a half football pitches) and she knows all the best places to find food and shelter to ensure a good outcome for herself

and her lamb.

shepherd to concentrate his attention on.

The ewes are under regular surveillance and by the end of March each heft is gathered up by the shepherd using a quad bike and sheep dogs and brought in to the handling pens for a check-up. Gathering is quite a spectacle, with each heft of several hundred sheep rounded up by the quad and sheep dogs and herded to the farm handling pens. By this time it is obvious which ewes are in lamb and which are not. All of the ewes to lamb are brought into the fields in the valley and the barren ewes and the hoggs (last years lambs that are too young to reproduce) are put back out onto the hill. This leaves the pregnant ewes for the 17

Image on previous page: View from the Backhill, South towards Ninemileburn. Images on this page from left: Beech trees on a sunny winter’s day, Sheep sheltering beneath the larch and scots pines on the Blackhill.

Images clockwise from top left: Old beech tree

farmstead) looking South along the Pentland range,

on the Blackhill, Christmas at Eastside, Line of

The view from the West Kipp of Eastside farmstead

beech trees from the Blackhill fields, Walker

and beyond towards the Moorfoots, Track down to

on the Pentland skyline (West Kipp behind the

the yard and ‘Archie’, A winter sunset.


A rural wilderness, just 10 miles from Edinburgh



ur ideal lambing time starts in mid April when the weather has hopefully improved

and grass on our hills is growing well to ensure a plentiful milk supply for the new lambs. The gestation period (length of pregnancy) for a

Spring Lambing Most ewes are fortunate and their

lamb is 5 months so this is why it’s so important to control when the tups are put with the ewes in mid November. Most ewes are fortunate and their lambs will come into the world without any human intervention. Within minutes the lamb will be

lambs will come into the world

on its feet looking for a feed of lovely warm

without any human intervention.

first milk or “colostrum�. Colostrum, as well

Within minutes the lamb will be on its feet looking for a feed of lovely warm milk.

as being like nectar to a new-born lamb is full of antibodies and protects it from common diseases.

In a normal birth, the lamb emerges with head the ewe away from her lamb then sadly all the and two front feet first and this is what usually shepherd will find is a small, hungry orphan happens. Problems can arise when the lamb

that has to be brought in and bottle-fed in

enters the ewe’s birth canal wrongly, perhaps

the sheep-shed. Sometimes, with a bit of luck,

with one leg or both of the lamb’s legs left

ewe and lamb can be reunited but it is all extra

behind. Sometimes twins fight for supremacy

hassle for the shepherd when he least needs it.

and stall the birthing process. In these cases, intervention is required but the most difficult

With problem births, the ewe and lamb will

part can be catching the ewe first! Even in

often need to be brought into a small paddock

the process of giving birth, a ewe can outrun

or the sheep shed. The lamb will need special

a shepherd on foot so a quad bike and dogs

attention, especially if it’s exhausted after a

are essential. Fortunately, with the Blackface

prolonged birth. The shepherd will help the

breed, the majority of lambs are born without

lamb to suckle milk from the ewe or, if it is very

any problems. Images on previous page: A Blackface lamb and a

After a normal delivery, the ewe busily licks

meadow buttercup amongst the spring grasses.

the lamb and bonds with it. If this process is

Image on this page: Ewes and lambs on a sunny

disturbed, by a dog or a hill-walker frightening spring day. 23

weak, he will milk the ewe and give the lamb

thinking it is her own. As the Blackface ewe

a reviving feed of colostrum with a tube fed

recognises her lamb mainly by smell, any lamb

carefully down the lamb’s throat. After one

that doesn’t smell right will be swiftly rejected

or two such feeds, the lamb revives and the

with a butt of the head. Placing the skin of the

bonding process begins.

dead lamb on the twin means it smells correct to the mother and she’ll busily nuzzle and feed

Sometimes, in spite of the shepherd’s best

her seemingly miraculously recovered offspring.

efforts, a lamb is stillborn. The ewe will be distressed and nudge the lamb in vain to

Even although it’s Spring, the sheep can

wake it. At the same time, another ewe may

experience blizzard conditions. More frequently

have twin lambs but not enough milk for them there is a dusting of snow that melts quickly both. If this happens we can use a technique

but Blackface lambs are remarkably resilient

called “twinning on”. It sounds gruesome

to harsh conditions and as long as they have

to describe but can ensure the successful

a belly full of milk, they will survive harsh

adoption of the twin with insufficient milk

conditions quite happily.

from its mother. The dead lamb is skinned and the skin placed on the twin lamb like a second coat. This fools the dead lamb’s mother into

Images on this page from left: The farm track at sunset with ewe and lamb in the Blackhill fields for observation, Once lambs are more robust they are released onto the open hill. This ewe and lamb are at the top of the West Kipp.


Images clockwise from top left: A golden spring

or ‘pets’, The bigger orphans get trained to drink

evening, Blackface ewes are very good mothers

from a milk bucket, Pied Wagtail chicks nest in a

always keeping an eye on their lambs, Lambs-a-

gap in the dyke, A lamb needing some care in the

leaping, The shepherd checking the ‘Low-End’


sheep with help from Jill the collie, Orphan lambs




ll the ewes have lambed by mid May and the lambs are growing well on the plentiful

grass. By June, they have quadrupled in size and are robust enough to be gathered in with their

Summer Marking & Clipping

mothers for marking. It is only then that the shepherd will know how successful a lambing he/she has had as all the lambs produced from each heft will be counted and tagged with the farm’s unique code.

Clipping is a highly skilled job that requires much practice to

Wool clipping (sometimes known as shearing) begins in June with the hoggs (the one year old

perfect. The trick is in keeping

female sheep that are too young to reproduce)

the sheep comfortable at all

first in line. The hoggs have had an easy time

times otherwise they will struggle - making it a very difficult and exhausting job indeed!

compared to the ewes as they haven’t had to produce and rear lambs. This means they start to grow new wool more quickly. This layer of fresh new wool between the skin and the old

wool is what the shearer will cut through to

build up until she suffocates. Turning her over

make sure the wool is clipped quickly and

resolves this problem very simply - she will

efficiently. It is called the “rise”. Clipping is a

burp heartily then run off!

highly skilled job that requires much practice to perfect. The trick is in keeping the sheep

The newly clipped wool will be rolled up and

comfortable at all times otherwise they

packed into large wool bags called “sheets”

will struggle - making it a very difficult and

for transporting to the Wool Marketing Board.

exhausting job indeed!

They will sell it on to make carpets. Blackface wool is abundant but coarse so this is the best

By mid-July it is the ewes’ turn to be clipped.

use for it. Rolling up fleeces will give you lovely

With the arrival of the warm summer weather,

soft hands as the wool is full of “lanolin”, an

the ewes will be glad to get rid of their winter

oily substance in the fleece which waterproofs

coats and will have produced enough “rise”

the wool and keeps the animal dry. Lanolin is

to make the shearer’s job easy. Often just

extracted from the wool in the washing process

before clipping, a ewe will get itchy and roll

and used in making moisturising face and hand

onto her back to scratch but get stuck in that


position. If she stays like this she will perish as the gases in her stomach can’t escape and 31

Images on previous page from left: Clipping is a

given a health check, Jill helps out, In summer sheep

highly skilled job, Harebells in hill pasture.

are clipped (sheared) for their wool, Wild orchids,

Images clockwise from top left: Sheep are

The Blackface tups (rams) after a close shave, Wild-

gathered from hefts individually for marking and clipping, During marking lambs are marked and


flower meadow.

Early Autumn


t this time of year, sheep numbers on the farm will be nearly 3000. Our next job is

to sell many of the now well grown lambs and some of the ewes. This is to reduce the flock grazing on the hill to a number that can be healthily sustained during the winter. All ewes will have been born on the farm and

Early Autumn Sheep Sales After a full year at Eastside, many ewes will have a fine ewe-lamb to

then live here for five years. When they are five, they’ve had enough of their hard life on the hill and will be sold to a low-ground farmer where they will live and breed for another few years. Within the UK, there operates a tiered breeding system to ensure the supply of prime lamb. This system starts with upland breeds such

join their hefts on the hill and the

as Blackface. Once the upland sheep are sold

cycle will begin all over again.

to lower farms for breeding, they are crossed

with other breeds (e.g. Bluefaced Leicester)


for increased yields of wool and meat. This system has been perfected over hundreds of

After a full year at Eastside, many ewes will

years and is the envy of much of the world.

have a fine ewe-lamb to join their hefts on the hill and the cycle will begin all over again.

If an Eastside ewe has produced a good ewelamb, the lamb will be kept as a replacement for the old ewes moving down to pastures new. About half of the total number of ewe-lambs born are kept as replacements. Otherwise, the ewe-lambs will be sold at the market to another upland farm for breeding. When a ewe has produced a fine, strong male lamb, the lamb may be kept as a tup for

Images on previous page: Hay store from the

breeding. However, most of the male lambs

Eastside track looking towards the Kipps.

are sold as “store lambs” at the market to low ground farmers who fatten them for meat 37

Images on this page from left: Shepherd sorts the stock, Sheep await marking in the ‘stack yard’.

Images clockwise from top left: Blackface tup

for the tupping, Harebells flower on the hill, Autumn

in the sale ring, Bought tups return to Eastside,

light from the farm track looking towards the ‘Low

Autumn seed heads on the hill, Ewes are sorted

End’, Lambs are ready for the sales.


Susan Cowan Eastside Holiday Cottages Penicuik | Midlothian EH26 9LN

01968 677 842 All photography copyright of Michael Rummey photography, Graphic design by Tigerchick

Eastside Farm - Through The Seasons  
Eastside Farm - Through The Seasons  

Eastside Farm is a hill sheep farm in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, Scotland. This booklet describes the farm through the seasons, ill...