To the average passer by, a flock of sheep is just that, with no individual defining characteristics. But Mike Scott, who died recently, was able to identify each of his Blackface sheep by their own specific features.
He then used this skill in picking out strong and weak points – known as kenning – to breed superior rams and ewes. Such was his ability that Troloss Blackface sheep were greatly sought after when they went into the sale ring.
From an early age, Mike impressed his peers with this photographic memory and his ability to spot what he would call a “bloody topper”.
This skill was achieved despite not being born and brought up on a farm, as his father was a noted wine merchant in Edinburgh.
His school holidays proved more formative than city life as they were spent at his uncle, Alistair Duncan-Miller’s farm at Remony, Aberfeldy.
There he helped with the lambing at Easter and then in the summer worked alongside the shepherds on this Perthshire hill sheep farm gaining knowledge all the time on the ways and wiles of hill sheep.
This period of his life also installed a love of the Scottish countryside where, despite having the physique of a rugby prop, he bounded up hills with both speed and enthusiasm.
Later, as a student, he took a placement at another of the top hill sheep farms in Scotland – Connachan at Crieff – where he spent time under the stewardship of the late Neil McCall-Smith and that doyen of all hill shepherds, the late Davie Cunningham.
When, in 1964, he went into farming on his own account, Mike purchased Troloss Farm from the late Ben Wilson. Situated on the Lanarkshire/Dumfriesshire border, this is an out and out hill farm. It was a brave and big move for a young man moving into the sector as, at that time, the performance of the Troloss sheep stock was, perhaps, at the pinnacle of its success.
Locals worried that the fortunes of the hefted flock would only decline under the stewardship of a new owner with no farming background.
However, with the help of his two outstanding shepherds, Sandy Wilson and Billy McMorran, Mike accepted the challenge and propelled the Troloss flock to an even higher level.
His ability to pick the right sheep shone from the start. He spent £1,400 – a relatively modest sum – at the Newton Stewart ram sales. For his investment, he bought a ram lamb, later named Old Gass, who proved to be one of Troloss’ best ever stock tups.
By 1984, the Troloss team gained the top price at the prestigious Lanark Blackface sale with a £32,000 bid for his top ram lamb, later christened Old Sandy. This tup went on to leave some top quality progeny on many flocks.
At the same sale, Mike’s pen of ram lambs also topped the sale average and when they were approaching the ring the auctioneer, the late Ian Clark had to stop the sale and persuade everyone to move back and allow the massive crowd to witness the sale.
The demand for Troloss sheep was not solely on the male side as Mike’s draft ewes were also much sought after and made exceptional and consistent high prices at Lanark market. Over the years, many Blackface breeders started new flocks with Troloss bloodlines.
Part of Mike’s success as a sheep breeder was his ability to speak to anyone, whether they were dukes or shepherds. He was always congenial company and was always surrounded with friends.
His local agricultural show was Abington. It provided a grand platform for those Blackface breeders wanting to see the cream of the Troloss crop and they came from far afield to see his show team.
Recognising his contribution to the Blackface breed, Mike was due to be awarded the Connachan Salver at the annual meeting of the breed next week (12 March). His family will now collect it on his behalf.
Mike sold Troloss in 2000 and semi-retired to Overburns, an in-bye livestock farm on Clydeside, where he still enjoyed being involved in the Scottish farming scene.
Mike’s hobbies of fishing, shooting and racing were those of a man in love with the countryside and it was while pursuing these hobbies that he met many of his lifelong friends.
He was also a lifelong supporter of Scottish rugby and could often be seen at Murrayfield cheering his team on.
He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Caroline, and his son Alexander, daughter Camilla and his grandchildren.