My life at Mindrum was never humdrum

Shepherd David Brown of Mindrum Farm, Mindrum.
Shepherd David Brown of Mindrum Farm, Mindrum.

DAVID Brown was nine when he went to live at Mindrum.

That was in 1966 and bar six years in the army and a stint putting up agricultural buildings, he’s been on the 1,100-acre farm on the border between Yetholm and Coldstream since.

He told us: “I have lived here for about 45 years. There always were sheep on the farm, but I didn’t spend a lot of time with them when I was younger. I had an interest, my father had a background in sheep, his family were all shepherds.”

He’s just finished lambing 33 Suffolk ewes and is gearing up for the 1,300-strong commercial flock’s lambing at the end of next month.

The farm, on marginal land, which sits at 200ft, rising to 600ft above sea level, is changing from mules out of Blackface ewes – currently 300 – to a Suffolk tup, to Suffolk cross ewes to a Texel tup.

A small flock of 25 Texels produces the sires. And tenant farmer Tom Neill of nearby Howtel Farm also grows turnips, barley, wheat, sometimes oats, and the odd field of kale for stock – but last year’s weather put paid to the kale which didn’t even go into the ground.

But concerning the weather otherwise, Mr Brown said: “I haven’t seen an effect on the flock.”

There has been no fluke, scanning results are 195 per cent, up five per cent on last year.

However, he said: “The biggest problem was we fatten lambs on turnips, but the field is absolutely sodden and the turnips didn’t swell out as they usually do so we’ve been feeding barley. It’s the first time I’ve known the turnip crop not to be so good.”

Mr Brown joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in 1972 when he was 15 and saw service in Berlin, Kenya and Belize among other places before returning to Wooler to work for the farm building company, then with his father, William, until he retired about 20 years ago and Mr Brown took over as head shepherd.

About this time last year Mr Brown junior was receiving a long service award for 32 years at Mindrum.

Asked what changes he had seen over those three decades, he said the basics remain: the seasons, the times of the year thetups go out, fattening lambs, lambing at the end of March and earlyApril, speaning, clipping but just “maybe over 30 years you learn how to do things in a better way”.

“I learned what I know from Dad and you pick up things as you go along. You learn things by talking to people. You just work it out and try it out and see which is the best way.”

He used to inoculate lambs after they were speaned, but now does them two weeks before they are weaned from their mothers: “It’s improved things, you get them covered for pneumonia before the stress of speaning which can start it off.”

Other changes are the machinery: “When I started we had two wheel bikes and an old Massey Ferguson tractor with a service box on the back. Now we’ve got a Landrover and quad bikes and a John Deere tractor with a nice warm cab.

“And for sheep handling we’ve got a race handling system, an autograder which catches hold of sheep and raises them and reads tags. We used to get cold and wet quite often, whereas now we have the Landrover. When you are moving about the farm and you’ve got cover over your head – that’s a big help for somebody who works on the land.”

Asked what he liked about his work he said: “You are doing the job and there’s nobody following us around telling uswhat to do – you know what’s to do and you get on with it.”

He trains his own dogs – “there’s not a lot of time goes into it, they learn as they go along and from the other dogs” – and has two working Border collies, Roy, “a good one – he’s shaping very nicely” from Ettrickbridge, and Mist.

He also has a four-month-old pup, sister to Roy because he is so impressed with his young dog.

“One of the best parts of my job is working with the dogs … it’s a nice way to spend a day”, he said.