How a native sheep breed became the face of the Royal Highland Show

A Scottish Blackface sheep, bred by renowned farmer Malcolm Coubrough, has been selected as the “hero image” for this year’s Royal Highland Show (21-24 June).

The ewe, which won the Breed Title last year, is featuring the length and breadth of Scotland on billboards and buses – as well as on social media and TV.

“You never go to a show expecting to win, but once we’d won the class, I knew we had a chance,” the Lanarkshire farmer said.

“It was an absolutely fantastic moment. I haven’t won many shows, so that was definitely the biggest win I’ve had. I got a lovely reaction from my fellow breeders.”

See also: Blackface ewe hits 11,000gns at Lanark

Launched at St Andrew Square in Edinburgh, the campaign has involved a photoshoot – which Mr Coubrough’s  daughter, Emily (after whom the sheep was named), also attended.

“I was a little bit nervous about taking a Blackface ewe into the centre of the city,” he said. “But she was relaxed and totally chilled out. It’s been a great experience.”

Family affair

The family’s enterprises are spread over four farms, covering about 2,430ha (6,000 acres).

At the heart of it are Mr Coubrough and his wife, Audrey; their children Emily and Charlie; his parents Malcolm and Ella; and shepherds Gordon MacDougal and Ross Henderson.


The stock includes about 1,900 pure Blackies – an iconic breed the family have always kept.

“Blackface sheep breeding is either in you or it’s not and I was hooked as a wee lad after following Dad at lambing time round the hill,”Mr Coubrough recalled.

“The breed is all about character. It’s a well-balanced animal with plenty of size, a good body and displaying a lot of character in the head.” 

Tough breed

He adds: “It is bred to survive the brutality that the Scottish Highlands can throw at it, so it needs to have the qualities and temperament to cope with the harshest environments.

“This has been particularly important this year, as we’re coming out of one of the worst winters and springs I can remember. There might not be as many lambs on the ground as normal – but we’ve still got a product to sell.

“They’re a prolific breed. The better you look after a Blackie, the better she looks after you.”

Among Mr Coubrough’s highlights are a shearling which made £10,000 last year and one that went for £12,000 two years ago. “The family record is £16,000, though. That’s the benchmark set by my dad – that’s the one I’ve got to beat!

“Much of the Scottish landscape has been shaped by native breeds, which have grazed the geography of this country for centuries. We owe a lot to these breeds for the beauty that we see. 

“They have also provided an income for generations of farmers who have relied on their hardiness to generate a living – which has been vital for the economy of rural Scotland.”

Biggar-based Mr Coubrough will be showing four sheep at this year’s show.

“Like I say, you don’t go expecting to win – but we’re taking the best we’ve got and, if we’re competitive, we’ll have a chance.”

Breed facts

  • Blackface have a coarse, dense fleece that is resistant to biting winds and rainfall
  • Good at maintaining condition on poor forage, generally with no supplementary feed
  • Purebred ewes may be crossed with breeds such as the Bluefaced Leicester to produce larger, more commercial, North Country and Scotch Mules
  • Lambing is late – around March-April – but the breed can give birth unaided and has good mothering abilities
  • The wool is used in a variety of products including carpets, tweeds and mattresses