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Gearing up for the Winter Fair

Producing superior quality livestock capable of winning both local and national events has fast become one of the most popular, albeit one of the most expensive, past-times in agriculture.

However, few will ever be able to match the ability or the success of veteran exhibitor, Stewart Brown (79), who over the past 30 years has become renowned for bringing out the best in both home-bred and bought-in calves.

But, having amassed more than 1500 prize rosettes during this time, not to mention a huge number of highly prized trophies, it's his enthusiasm that remains the most impressive.

This well-known exhibitor only took up showing cattle in 1984, when he also owned the Netherton John Deere tractor dealership business, which he sold out to the Barclay group in 1997.

"The folk you meet when you're working with cattle are just fantastic," said Stewart. "There is just so much enthusiasm amongst exhibitors showing commercial calves these days which is great, especially when so many of them are young ones, as it teaches them the basics of stockmanship. The problem is there are not as many good calves to buy as there used to be, but then, that helps educate the youngsters as to what calves have the potential to grow into good show animals," said Stewart, adding that various 'kist parties' are an essential part of that learning curve!

The other big issue faced by the enthusiasts is that there are fewer events whereby new exhibitors can pick up the tips of the trade through such parties.

"Smithfield was always the highlight of the year and we never even got into London!" added Stewart, who over the years and together with his similarly aged 'partner in crime' Jimmy MacMillan, was often and even yet remains the instigator of such lively debate around the cattle rings, not to mention the number of sair heids the following morning! The Winter Fair also used to be great as it was a three-day event whereas now it's just one – it would be so much better if it was a two-day show and the venue was changed which would make it cheaper for everyone."

In saying that, Stewart, who sadly lost his wife, Sylvia, seven years ago, wouldn't miss it for the world and this year will have two entries forward, to include the well-known black Limousin cross show heifer, Wendy, which has no fewer than five championships, three reserves, one supreme champion of champions and three reserve overalls, under her belt.

Stewart, who bought the calf at the Paton family's Spott dispersal last year alongside her mother, an in-calf Limousin cross cow, for £6200, also remains adamant that the outfit was well worth the money as the cow now has a good Bailea's Black BMW-sired bull calf.

"I just always liked the calf (Wendy) – I went to see her three times before she was sold," said Stewart. "She's got a lovely head, great shape, conformation and she's got the length. She also full of character and she good on her legs.

"Producing good show calves, as in any breed of livestock, is nothing to do with feeding, it's all down to genetics and Wendy's dam and grand-dam were great cows and her sire, Bailea's Black BMW, is a good bull – I'm going to put the mother back in calf to him."

Stewart's greatest achievement to date was winning the Highland Show in 1997 with 'Wullie', a Limousin cross bullock, bred by the Laings from Grantown, which not only won many local shows, but also went on to stand senior champion at the Winter Fair.

It's not just bought in calves that have made their presence felt in the show ring though – Stewart won virtually everything going in 2004 with the home-bred bullock, Fasch, a Westhall Lovejoy son out of a home-bred Limousin cross British Blue cow.

He also won a heap of awards for his first year exhibiting in 1984, securing not only the championship at Fife but also the reserve native trophy at Smithfield with an Aberdeen-Angus cross bought from Jimmy MacMillan.

No stranger at the local Christmas shows and sales at Forfar either, Stewart regularly produces several of the prize winners there too which in the past have sold up to £4000.

A Limousin man through and through, Stewart has also enjoyed notable success with his small herd of six pedigree Limousin cows which he runs alongside his six commercial Limousin cross cows. The Roepark herd has won numerous breed accolades at local shows and at the Aberdeen Spring Show at Thainstone in the past.

However, while the odd bull is sold through the market, most are sold privately, with last year's cracker, Roepark Dumbledore, a Shire Sullivan son that stood second in his class at the Highland and reserve inter-breed at the Banchory, now out to work with a local farmer.

Sadly, with no family to assist him, it's Stewart who does all the work with the cattle, not to mention all his own gardening and housework, although he does now accept a small amount of assistance from his neighbour Cathy Johnson.

In saying that – that's how he's able to keep many of the tricks of the trade to himself. Being a keen gardener with the ability to grow tomatoes and grapes – surely that has to be the secret of his show calf diet, while his calves must be trained to walk so well by tying them to the back of spruced up vintage tractors!!

By Patsy Hunter Photographs: Jacqueline Adamson

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