GETTING a step on the pedigree ladder and building up a herd to produce quality progeny good enough to sell through the sale ring is a tedious process. But, when you’ve worked with commercial cattle for more than 15 years and picked up a good number of prestigious awards and indeed prices, the job becomes that bit easier. 
With the Royal Highland Show almost upon us, exhibitors from throughout the UK are gearing up for one of the biggest highlights in their showing calendar, and, for one family, like many others, it’s an event not to be missed.
The Ritchie family, Aileen and her parents, Walter and Doreen, who are based in the North-east at Tamala, Whitecairns, just nine miles from Aberdeen, are busy preparing their pedigree Limousins for their first outing of the year, The Royal Highland Show, before they tour the north show circuit, throughout July and August. 
Tamala, which has been in the Ritchie family for 32 years, now compromises of just 1.4 acres. Originally the backbone of Walter’s successful plant hire business, the unit has seen a good number of changes over the years to include finishing a few store cattle. 
It was through this fattening enterprise that Aileen realised her love of cattle at a young age, although she always found it upsetting when such animals then had to be sold. But to get round this, she bought her own calf at Thainstone’s Spectacular sale, from the Macarthurs at Mid Fleenas. 
The heifer calf, Miss Money Penny, may not have lived up to her name in the show ring as she regularly found herself standing at the wrong end of the line-up at shows, however, she introduced Aileen to showing, providing her with the ‘bug’, and determination to continue.

The Scottish Farmer:
As her enthusiasm grew, Walter purchased 40 suckler cows, mainly Limousin crosses, which gave the family the real foundation for running their pedigree herd today. Rebecca, a Limousin cross calf bought from the Wilsons at Wester Cairnglass, gave Aileen her first ever red ticket. 
She was sold as a heifer with calf at foot at Thainstone, in 2010, for £4500, along with the remainder of the commercial cattle, to allow for improvements and expansion to the steading at Tamala.
These new sheds now contribute to the extensive industrial units that are rented out to businesses in the oil and gas sector. It also allowed Aileen to buy a few commercial calves at back-end sales, for showing the following summer.
“Showing the commercials has always been a hobby and although we picked up some great awards, we always wanted to have a breed that we could see develop every year and watch generations form,” said Aileen, who now works for the Department of Agriculture, having gained her honours degree in agriculture at Craibstone. 
That led them to Limousins, and in January, 2014, the first ever pedigree came home to Tamala – Emslies Ieryl – purchased for £15,000 at Harry and Lynwen Emslie’s production sale at Carlisle. 
“Dad wanted to invest in something that would give me a good start to running my own herd that would be maintained for many years to come. We went for the Limousin breed as it’s the number one terminal sire, and there will always be a market for the breed due to its smaller carcase weight and easier finishing,” Aileen said. 

The Scottish Farmer:

          Ritchies Meryl, out of Emslies Ieryl, is heading to the Highland

Ieryl was purchased at just nine months of age, and had her first outing at the Highland where she stood reserve junior champion in 2014. In 2015, she proved to be almost unbeatable at the north shows, picking up almost every breed champion, apart from one. 
She also stood first prize junior cow at the breed’s National Show at Carlisle, last July. Ieryl also stood Scottish Female of the Year having gained the most number of points in the Scottish Herds competition. 
Having enjoyed so much success with Ieryl, which is currently being flushed, Aileen headed back to Carlisle the following year and purchased the two top priced females at the Red Ladies sale – Brockhurst Howzat and Goldies Inchantress, for the family’s new Ritchies herd. Notably, Aileen’s show ring success continued, with no fewer than nine breed championships between the two new additions accrued that year.

The Scottish Farmer:

         Beachmount Lady

“The best thing about having pedigree Limousins compared to commercials is that you can still show them and take them home. When we had the commercials, they always had to be sold”, said Aileen.
Beachmount Lady was Aileen’s latest purchase at 2016’s Red Ladies sale, where she stood reserve overall. She is now scanned in-calf to Sympa. 
With some of those impressive females due to calve soon, the Ritchies herd now comprises 11 females, which Aileen says is a number she would like to maintain for now. 
“I’d like to be able to sell something and sell a bull for commercial use,” she commented, pointing out that she has only had one bull calf on the ground since her first Limousin purchase. 
Commenting on her breeding policy, Aileen said that EBVs are important when buying females, as well as physical appearance. 
“Females need to be powerful, have good length and be bred out of big females, which have proven bloodlines in their background.
“When selecting semen for AI, I try to find the fault in the cow and then try and match a bull which has that particular characteristic the female is lacking”, she adds.
With Tamala having lost much of its ground to build new sheds, the small herd graze on 30 acres of rented grass nearby, from May to September. 
“Originally, when the cows grazed at home, we only had a couple smaller fields which meant the cows were getting a supplement feed too. Now, they just graze pure grass, which is much healthier”, commented Aileen.
Whilst indoors in the winter months, they receive silage only along with a barley and soya mix, and anything that is needing that extra push before show season is given East Coast Viner’s pedigree bull blend. 

The Scottish Farmer:
Although the family is fully focused on growing and improving their Limousin herd, to give a quicker turnover and cover embryo and recipient costs, Aileen and her boyfriend, Ross Junor, purchased 70 ewes with lambs at foot, from Thainstone, last Easter. These lambs have funded more breeding ewes, with the aim to build up a commercial flock of up to 200 head. 
It’s the cattle that take priority now though with two pedigree Limousin heifers to prepare for next week’s Highland Show. It’s an event where Aileen hopes to pick up a few tricks of the trade too. 
“Compared to summer shows, you have the time at the Highland to look at other people’s stock and see what’s coming into the breeds. The best place to watch the experts in the breed and pick up the tips is the Highland, and, of course the bull sales throughout the year”. 
Doreen concluded, “The Highland is a great place to catch up with friends old and new, and is an event which has become our annual family holiday!”