North Country Cheviot semen has been exported to the USA for the first time in more than 30 years to improve the genetics of the Northie across the pond, writes farming journalist, Catherin Cunnane.
Scottish breeders, Roderick Runciman and Andrew Polson, were selected to export semen after US breeders expressed a desire for Caithness and border-type genetics.
Roderick and Andrew both put four rams forward, which were “rigorously” tested before being allowed to provide the semen.
The process was managed by AB Europe, a leading supplier of assisted breeding services to the UK livestock industry.
It involved each ram being isolated and undergoing a range of tests before the semen could be approved for export, which took almost 12 months to complete.
The move follows President Biden’s scrapping of the beef and lamb import ban in September 2021, which had been in place since 1989 due to fears over the UK outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).
As well as meat, the ban included semen and embryos, meaning the US gene pool for native breeds, such as the North Country Cheviot, has been severally restricted for more than three decades.
Andrew, who runs the Smerlie flock in Caithness, described being asked to provide semen as “an honour” as he has only founded his flock in recent years.
He returned to Northies in 2012 after a 25-year break but has since established himself as one of the UK’s top breeders.
Andrew said: “I was contacted directly by a breeder in the States whose grandfather was from Caithness.”
“He had studied agriculture at university in Scotland, too, and visited sales in Caithness, so he knew what he was looking for. “
“They had seen some of my sheep and Roderick’s sheep go into the sale ring, and because of that, we were asked to supply semen.”
“Roderick has a fantastic track record, and it was a great honour for the Smerlie flock to be asked. It is going to be good for the North Country Cheviot breed and for our fellow breeders.”
Roderick said his rams – Sebay Excitable, Pengreos Xcalibre, Allanshaws XR3, and Allanshaw ACDC – were all proven sires and passed the raft of tests with “flying colours”.
He said: “The Americans are keen to improve the breed, and they watch every sale and show and comment on them. They see when you win a show, and they seemed to like my type.”
“The Scottish blood will widen the gene pool, but Rome was not built in a day.”
“It is not going to suddenly make them into the quality we see over here, but I do think it is a big step forward to improving the genetics across the pond.”
He added the semen would enhance the characteristics of the American North Country Cheviots.
Roderick, who has the famous Allanshaws flock, runs 750 North Country Cheviot ewes that scan between 190% – 200% and are capable of raising two lambs even at heights of up to 1,400ft on his farm near Galashiels in the Scottish borders.
He keeps 300 of his ewes pure, and the rest are put to a Blueface Leicester to produce Cheviot Mules, which he sells privately to a regular client list.
Andrew runs 200 purebred ewes and sells shearling rams and gimmers at Caithness and Lockerbie.
The rams he put forward to donate semen are Smerlie Ambassador, Smerlie Admiral, Smerlie Whisky and Cairnside Brightspark.
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