about the farm
The Sutherland family run Hillhouse Farm Escapes – we’ve been farming here for over 90 years spanning 4 generations of farmers. A lot has changed over those years, of course, with farming evolving and diversifying over the decades. Today, Jim and son Dave run the farming side of the operation whilst Jo takes care of the hospitality side along with daughter, Ruth.
Hillhouse is an upland sheep farm, we have 2000 ewes here (and another 1000 at a second farm nearby). That sounds like a lot of sheep! But with 1500 acres, it’s a low-intensity operation with the sheep spending their days and nights out in the fields. Hillhouse Farm Escapes is our agri-tourism business – we’re part of a network of Scottish farmers who welcome guests to stay and experience rural life (Go Rural Scotland). We also manage a cafe nearby, Soutra.
Hillhouse has been developing its flock for the past 10 years towards a wool-shedding (EasyCare) breed. We actively select certain preferred genetics when deciding on which tups (rams) to breed with which ewes (females). The resulting characteristics of our flock are sheep which: need minimal intervention from us, including at lambing; shed their own wool; and have excellent mothering instincts.
The sheep are fed solely on the grass in our own fields and, in winter, silage which is grown on the farm too. This means the flock has a lower carbon footprint than might be achieved otherwise as feed isn’t travelling hundreds (or thousands) of miles to get to our farm.
The fleece is dense and covered in lanolin which keeps the sheep warm warm in winter. That means they can live in the fields all year round. Once the fleece is shed in the early summer, it rapidly decomposes in our fields. A further upside is that it acts as a natural soil conditioner.
We have 4 sheepdogs here at Hillhouse. These working dogs are extremely intelligent and definitely any sheep farmer’s best friend. Our dogs are all Border collies, and they are called Troy, Heck, Drift and Mac. All boys!
Border collies have been used for centuries in this region to work sheep on the hills. They are exceptionally smart and have an inborn instinct to work, working quietly and very efficiently! They are also utterly loyal.
We train our own dogs here at Hillhouse. Usually, it’s Jim that starts the training process. He pairs the young puppy with an experienced dog. It’s a process which takes several years, but all the effort put in is worth it. There is nothing better than watching a clever Border collie doing its work in the fields.
We are firm believers that agriculture should be part of the climate change solution. We also know that farms like ours can also provide excellent habitats for wildlife and native plants.
For many years, we have been working on our environmental impact here at Hillhouse. Twenty years ago, to improve the natural habitat for wildlife, we began a process of planting 20km of hedges and creating 13 ponds. It brings us a lot of joy to see the huge impact that this has had on breeding birds and other wildlife.
We are now working towards achieving carbon neutrality and beyond. We have already invested heavily in renewable energy with biomass heating (all wood sustainably home grown) and solar panels. Planting of new woodland areas feature in the next phase, with further carbon-reducing strategies under discussion.
Hillhouse Farm Escapes has been in the Sutherland family for over 90 years. Jim Sutherland and son Dave are farming today, before them was Jim’s father Ian Sutherland, and grandfather James Sutherland who arrived here in 1933.
Farming life has changed enormously over the decades, and the centuries before that. Hillhouse has a history dating back well before livestock and crops were grown at any scale. In fact, we know that the farm was inhabited as far back as 40 AD- there is an Iron Age hillfort here! It is just a 5-minute walk for guests from the cottages. There are over 400 similar hillforts in the Scottish Borders!