Tuesday evening sees the BBC TV programme Lambing Live turn the spotlight exclusively on the Dykes family at South Slipperfield, West Linton.
The third series of the programme, rather dramatically billed as ‘life and death’, follows the family as lambing progresses on their 1,000-acre farm in the shadow of the Pentland Hills where they breed Scotch mules to produce fat lambs.
The farm is run by third-generation Hamish Dykes and wife Susie, supported by his ever active father John, who has a long-term interest in Bluefaced Leicester sheep and Highland ponies.
The programme aims to chronicle the lambing period on a Scottish farm and offers an insight into the trials and tribulations that confront sheep farmers at this time of year. Four BBC camera teams will follow the family as lambing unfolds.
It’s the sort of reality TV that is the norm today, but hopefully it will not be Big Brother and will reflect sensitively and honestly an important part of Scottish agriculture, given that sheep farming is big business north of the Border with more than one-fifth of the UK’s breeding flock.
That the family agreed to take part in such a venture is to be commended. Not everyone would want one of the most demanding times in the sheep calendar to be filmed for posterity.
It will be interesting to see how Hamish Dykes and his family react to being questioned about daily life in lambing time, and how he portrays the reality of 21st century sheep farming in Scotland.
If the programme and the questions are appropriately structured they could offer a golden opportunity to present the viewing public with a unique insight into modern stocksmanship, which has a long and honourable history in Scotland.
Shepherding, from biblical times, has acquired and sustained its own culture and ethos and has etched out a distinctive pedigree in the story of Scottish farming.
At a time when shepherds are doing more and more and looking after larger numbers of sheep, their worth and value has risen enormously.
The Dykes farming operation is a family business with no full-time staff to assist, according to the BBC news release, so the focus will clearly be on the individuals involved. How they cope as they have done for years and what messages they send out about a family farming concern today will be fascinating to see and hear.
The programme has the potential to say a great deal about the vocation of farming as opposed to being a job, and create the opportunity to enter into an arena where no one knows exactly how the year will turn out. By its nature, lambing is an unpredictable business.
Ask sheep farmers what the three weeks of lambing will be like and they will inevitably reply that they don’t know. How could they?
Weather, that most fickle of forces, can make or break a lambing, and in a moment a good spell can disintegrate into a wretched downpour or blizzard.
I write with more than a passing interest. My own experiences of lambing in Dumfriesshire will compel me to watch as many of the episodes of Lambing Live as I can from Tuesday to Friday.
In an effort to gain favour with my future father-in-law many years ago I volunteered to help with the in-bye lambing on his farm in the Nith valley, while my now brother-in-law and two shepherds looked after the hill sheep.
Under the shadow of the Lowther Hills I would spend three weeks feeding, counting, shifting, and marking the lower flock and lambing hoggs.
It was hardly front-line stuff, but it gave me an insight into the mechanics of sheep husbandry, as well as the technically challenging task of keeping my feet while feeding 80 hungry and pushy ewes and followers at eight troughs when the green grass was morphed into deep gutters, and the rain was horizontal.
Then there was dealing with an awkward birth in the lambing shed, hoping that nimble fingers could extract a young head and feet in the right order, rather than bearing witness to a lost lamb.
They were an instructive six years, shred of romance and bucolic delights, but gritty and satisfying.
I look forward to seeing what Lambing Live brings later this week.