There is no doubt, self isolating comes naturally to most farmers, but with agricultural shows cancelled and the uncertainty of breeding sales in the backend ¬– the main harvest time for many – it is a worrying time for all.

Farmers at least have an end product to sell compared to the many others in the industry who although playing a key role in the professional organisation and preparation of such events, have been left high and dry with so many unanswered questions that remain impossible to answer at present.

The Scottish Farmer spoke to four directly affected by lockdown – freelance stockpersons, Richard Rettie and Kim Brown; professional photographer, Catherine MacGregor and Direct Rosettes owners, Marjory and Ian Davidson – to find out how they are coping.


Marjory and Ian Davidson, Direct Rosettes

When the news first came through of a nationwide lockdown, Marjory and Ian Davidson who took over Direct Rosettes 18 months ago, looked at the four walls in their house and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!

Three months ago, their books were full of orders from local and national agricultural and horse events for sashes and rosettes, with enquiries from new customers coming in on an almost daily basis. Now, any profit they had hoped to make has been completely obliterated, with orders collapsing with the vast majority of shows now cancelled.

“We had already made thousands of rosettes, all of which are handmade for several shows when the news came out,” said Marjory.

“The good thing is most of them didn’t have dates on, and the show secretaries have agreed to stand on their orders for next year.

“I have to admit, it has been a very scary time as we did think we were about to see the whole business fall flat, but everyone else is in the same position and we just have to hope we come out safe and sound at the end of it.”

Keen to turn a negative into a positive, they are now however as busy as ever, raising money for NHS Covid-19 after local gardener, Norman Ellis, Colquhalzie Farms, Crieff, asked the couple to make him a large rainbow coloured rosette.

Ian then suggested the idea of making these bright rainbow rosettes to raise money for charity and what better cause than NHS Covid-19. Photographs of their vibrant, colourful rosettes were posted on Facebook and they are now busier than ever.

“I’m now seeing rainbows in my sleep,” said Marjory, who can’t believe the demand having posted off rainbow coloured ribbons as far north as Orkney right down to Devon.

“We’ve had a constant stream of requests for the rosettes ever since we posted our story up on Facebook and by Monday May 3, had raised £1700 for the NHS, with money still coming in.”

To date, the couple has made around 200 of the large, 13” rosettes, which are priced at £20 of which half is donated to the NHS Covid-19 appeal. This includes delivery in a 12” pizza box, leaving little if any profit due to the cost of the materials, postage and time.

They also make a smaller rosette which is priced at £15, of which £10 is donated to the charity.

“We don’t make any money from the rosettes, we just hope that in doing so, we are raising money for such a vital cause and hopefully, people will come back to us after this with new orders,” Marjory added.

“Although we’ve lost most of our business for this year, we are still the lucky ones. There are a lot more people far worse off than us, and we at least are fortunate not to have to work on the front line.

“Making the rosettes keeps us busy and will hopefully ensure new custom in the long-term, but it also helps to make money for charity because without the NHS we’re lost.”

Outwith the colourful rainbow rosettes, the couple has also had to diversify into making rosettes for birthday and other celebratory events and even cushions made from old rosettes and sashes.

On a more positive note, they have had orders for prize winning rosettes for an increasing number of virtual and on-line horse and pony events, and they do have a number of other ideas in the pipeline.

Just go to Direct Rosettes Facebook page to find out how you can order your rosette and much, much more ….

Catherine MacGregor

If you want to get the best portrait of any type of livestock, only one name comes to mind – MacGregor Photography – but with three full-time members of staff, news of the lockdown did cause some initial stress for business owner, Catherine MacGregor.

Six weeks on and Catherine and her team have had to adjust to new ways of working.

“I have to admit I was worried to begin with when so many shows, which form the bulk of our work in the summer, were being cancelled,” said Catherine.

“However, with pedigree sales either being cancelled or moved to an online format, there is still very much a need for livestock photography at present.

“We have to take necessary distancing and hygiene precautions to ensure we, and those we are visiting, stay safe, but with a long lens, we’re still able to go to farms and photograph or video livestock, helping breeders to market their stock in these unprecedented times.”

She added: “April is normally our quietest month photography-wise, when we’re normally in the office designing adverts, but it’s actually been our busiest April yet.

“With the bull sales in May going ahead as online events only, we’ve had so many breeders looking for photographs and videos of their entries to sell privately or through the auction markets online.”

The business, which is not only reliant on work from the vast majority of breed societies, national agricultural shows and auction marts, has also just taken on a new member of staff, graphic designer Michael Cairns, who joins Catherine’s full-time team of Catherine Laurenson and Louise McArthur.

“Michael just recently joined us, he’s a talented designer who will be a huge asset as we further develop the design side of the business, which includes client adverts, banners, signs, logos and online marketing campaigns.

“We have 25,000 followers on Facebook and 40,000 regular visitors to the website from all over the world, so we have a huge platform to promote people’s animals and businesses.”

It’s working too, with the vast majority of Catherine’s bull posts resulting in private sales at a time of huge uncertainty in the market place.

“We did a lot of photographs and videos of bulls for the online sales at Carlisle and Stirling which proved popular, as it lets breeders decide for themselves which are the best animals to buy. We further promote them by putting them on our website and Facebook page, with the breeder and auction marts doing the same for maximum impact.”

While much of Catherine’s work revolves around promotion work for clients, her own business, established in 2008, has been built mainly on ‘word of mouth.’

Such is the knowledge and expertise of the team, which includes part-time work from sisters Lynsey Clark and Moira Russell, the MacGregor Photography portfolio not only includes photographs and videos for agricultural businesses in this country and on the continent, but also innovative marketing strategies to complement their portraits.

As it is, MacGregor Photography can offer a full media package to include advertising, press releases, on-farm features and show and sale reports.

Add to that the latest technology and equipment for producing educational, documentary and promotional videos, and the team has so much more to offer out with farming.

Catherine also has high hopes for new business in the months ahead.

“Personally, there’s nothing I enjoy more than photographing livestock in their own environment on-farm, and I’m glad we’re still able to do that at the moment, with long enough lenses to ensure social distancing. Although the shows are cancelled this year, good quality images and videos are an excellent alternative way for people to market their stock.

“We’ve got a great team who all get on really well together and we’re all extremely passionate about the farming industry. It’s a difficult time for everyone, but it’s also a rare chance to reflect on what’s important and I think a lot of good will come out of this too. Farmers are resilient by nature and we will get through this,” concluded Catherine.

Kim Brown

Going self-employed is a big step for anyone to take, but it has been particularly challenging for Kim Brown who set up her Cattle Livestock Services business just months before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Having been employed by several top pedigree breeders over the years to include Malcolm Reid, Kelso; Alastair and Graeme Fraser, Newton of Idvies; Jonathan Watson, Tweeddale; Robbie Galloway, Cardona; Ballathie Estate, Alastair Houston, Gretna House, Chris Curry, Burradon, and Karl Scott, Foggie Farm, breaking and bringing out pedigree cattle for shows and sales up and down the country, Kim has now found herself in a particularly worrying position.

“Things were going great as I was fully booked for the year breaking and bringing out cattle for shows and sales for various people. I also helped to source the new herd sire – Retties Lazy River, which is out of my all time favourite cow, Wall Lady Ruth – for the Foggie Aberdeen Angus herd. However, since the onset of the pandemic, a lot of my work has been stopped purely because all the shows have been cancelled.

“The worst thing is not knowing when life will get back to some sort of normality. People will be looking to get the cattle trained up for any sort of sales in the back-end, but there is a long summer in between,” said Kim who has a six-year-old daughter, along with six horses, a donkey, three dogs, a cat and Jake the snake – a California Kingsnake – to attend to.

Worryingly, having just established her new business, Kim can only apply for universal credit which makes life even more challenging.

“The past month hasn’t been too bad as everyone was rushing to get bulls broken and handled for the on line sales at Stirling and Carlisle, and while I have got some work here and there, it’s not going to fill weeks.

“I’m just really worried I get a massive vet’s bill for any of my animals. Two years ago I had to fork out £4500 for one of the horses and last year, there was another vet’s bill for £3500.

A former riding instructor, Kim can turn her hand to most things too as she was a bus driver for 16 years, before finally finding her dream job - working with cattle.

“I was obsessed with British Blue cattle for years and always dreamt about working with cattle. I then approached Richard Rettie to see if he would let me help him out and he’s taught me everything I know,” said Kim who is now based in Alloa.

Needless to say, Kim is keen and willing to give most things a try, having also worked with sheep for Robert Paterson, Upper Auchenlay, in the past.

“I’ve also driven tractors and keen to learn. I’ll give anything a go to help out anyone in farming,” she added.

p> Richard and Carol Rettie


With at least one show a week late spring, all summer and early autumn, combined with numerous bull and calf show and sales, well-known pedigree showmen, Richard and Carol Rettie, hardly had time to draw breath breaking and bringing out the best in other people’s pedigree cattle – until now.

Add to that, attending to their own pedigree cattle, flushing and embryo work for clients at their on-farm livery and the couple who are now based just outside Perth, never have time for a social life.

Most years, they would have in excess of 20 head of cattle of several breeds from various clients covering the length and breadth of the UK, plus their own, to show at the Royal Highland Show, making them one of biggest exhibitors.

It would be a similar situation at the Bull Sales and other pedigree cattle sales as the Retties also take in cattle for future draft and dispersal sales. This year, however, looks set to worryingly quiet.

“It’s going to be a real ‘shit’ year for us and so many other folks,” said Richard, who set up the Rettie’s free-lance cattle services business in 1998.

“We’re lucky we don’t have any full-time staff; Carol works part-time in the local vets, and I’ve got one-day a week working with an Aberdeen-Angus herd. It is so scary what has happened with the world in lockdown to help save as many lives as possible which has to be the main priority – I just hope we're able to come out at the end relatively unscathed.”

Richard, who is also hoping to get tractor work with a local contractor during the summer, to tide them over, rather than rely on financial assistance from the government, does nevertheless have some huge costs, with rent for their house, cattle shed and fields to find.

They also have their own pedigree cattle, amounting to 140 head of pedigree Aberdeen Angus, Beef Shorthorn, Charolais and a few cross-bred females for ET work, to feed and attend to.

“Most of the show cattle we were bringing out for people have already gone home to their respective owners. We do still have some which remain here on a permanent basis and we have the Weeton Aberdeen-Angus cattle which are to be dispersed in October, but without cattle to bring out for the shows, our business will definitely be affected.

“We never made a fortune showing cattle, but it is our business, our way of life and our social life, although at times we could see if far enough,” Richard added pointing out that their first summer show of the season was always Fife which was due to be staged in the next couple of weeks.

It was nevertheless, the Royal Highland and the Great Yorkshire that the couple enjoyed most – despite their busy workload which relied upon assistance from several other top stockmen and women to include sons, Jamie and Chas.

They did obviously have a number of cattle on site for the May Bull Sales, but with most of them broken by the couple and sold privately, a long summer awaits until the next round of bull sales in October, when even if the sales are unable to go ahead in their previous format, animals will need to be broken.

“This lockdown is going to have a huge impact on us and the worrying thing about it is that as yet, there is no real light at the end of the tunnel.

“We will be able to get some work to keep us going, but with the pandemic affecting all types of industry and trade, we will have to see how much of it affects our business at the end of the day,” concluded Richard.