An all-round stockman of many talents comes to mind when talking to Murray McIlwraith late of Stannock, who shared his lifetime memories with TSF this week.

What’s your background?

I was born and bred on the family farm of Stannock just outside the small harbour village of Isle of Whithorn in the very south of the Machars peninsula in Wigtownshire, Southwest Scotland.

We had a little bit of everything from dairy, beef to sheep to try and balance out our avenues, over 222 owned acres plus 100 rented acres.

On the dairy front we were running Ayrshires which I inherited. I always had an eye for Holsteins which gave higher milk production – I bought a few in and when my brother, Ivie moved away from Stannock he took the Ayrshire herd, so I invested in more black and whites. The ones I bought at Europon sales were a particularly good investment.

Something a little different, we also farmed Romagnola which looked like a good beef animal and tasted better than anything I’ve had before or since but sadly the breed never took off possibly due to too many bad bulls being imported at that time.

We always kept sheep of various breeds and crosses but after I bought Charollais sheep I found a like for them as a breed as they were easy to lamb and finish and didn’t give me too many troubles.

The work couldn’t have been done over the years without many helpful employees along the way, but Bobby Griffin was with me for 27 years, he was a top-class ploughman and a real worker of the old school.

I retired in 2006 and take life easy but enjoy keeping up with trade on the live market websites from the comfort of my own home!!

Tell us a little bit about your stockmen career and where it began?

My father passed away when I was 15, I came home from school and took over the farm with the help of family and friends especially my stepmother, brother, Ivie, sister, Jean and Uncle John, Balig.

What is it you are looking for in an animal?

Conformation. A good top line, bottom line, legs and feet.

Has the breed changed for the better?

Charollais sheep have improved greatly in the last 20 years and make a great crossing sire, easily lambed with good growth.

If you had to choose another breed to go into what would it be?

Beltex seems to be the breed of the moment, but fashions seem to change quickly in this industry now.

What got you involved in showing to start with?

Showing had always been in the family blood, my grandfather and father showed successfully, especially Clydesdales and Ayrshires. I have been going to shows for as far back as I remember – and possibly further, so you could say I never really had a choice...

Best Highland Show achievements?

Female champion with Diana, the Charollais ewe in the late 90s and she went on to win the female championship at The Royal Show the following year. I also was in the Romagnola team which won the beef team championship in 1989 at Ingliston.

Which was the best animal that you’ve ever shown?

The best sheep has got to be Diana as mentioned.

For the Ayrshire cattle I would have to go with Stannock Milkmaid in 1950s, and for the Holstein it would be Stannock Formation Rikki which was sold to Brian Davidson.

Biggest showing achievements?

Stannock bred Holsteins winning the championship at Dumfries Show on three consecutive years in the early 2000s and being awarded the Holstein Premier Breeder Award in 2004.

Biggest disappointment?

Losing my son, Ian in 2001

Your choice of best stockman/shepherd ever?

I have met many great stocksmen but a younger man for whom I have great admiration for is Johnny Aiken who can really bring out and show many breeds to their full potential. Cattle and sheep and probably even a chicken!!

Who has got the best kist parties?

I have enjoyed many over the year but Herbie Kennedy opening that suitcase of his was something else, you always knew it was going to be a big one!

One memorable night was at the Royal Welsh Show when we were in the company of Jim and Cynthia Aiken and Brian and Janice McTaggart when they got news of the birth of their grandson, Robbie. We toured many parties in the sheep marquee that night. Probably too many!

Best advice for someone starting off in the industry?

Look and learn what a good animal looks like. Use your eye to buy regardless of who is selling or who else is buying.

Best investment?

Marrying, Dorothy she has been my help mate and partner for well over 50 years and I really could not thank her enough for everything she has done for me in my lifetime.

Judging experience?

I have judged various places but often in Northern Ireland where I have judged both dairy and sheep at almost every show, a lot of excellent stock across the water! We have enjoyed many days in Ireland and made many great friends from all over

Something you thought you would never achieve but have?

Becoming 80!!

Could you imagine your life without showing?

It would have been pretty boring.

Best investment?

Knocking down the old, outdated farm buildings and replacing them with a more modern setup suited to today’s farming

Favourite event of the year?

The various agricultural shows but especially the National sheepdog trials. We used to take a caravan when the children were small then sadly life became too busy until more recently when I have been able to enjoy spending three days watching good dogs and talented shepherds.

Any hobbies out with the farm?

For a few years after I sold the farm, I bred border collies and was delighted when a dog of my breeding, Rav won the Scottish nursery final for Ian Fergie with another two of that litter of Tanhill Nell, Stuart McCrindle’s Kate and Jock McMillan’s Queen being in the top ten.

The future of the showing circuit?

The show ring gives an opportunity for farmers to see and recognise good stock as well as a great shop window for all commercial buyers.

Through showing we have travelled to many places, met many people and made many, many friends. I’m pleased our daughter, Helen and her husband, Angus McColm who work with pedigree Texels have also had the same opportunities and I would encourage anyway to get involved.

Hopefully after the pandemic the show ring will return and exhibitors will be as keen as mustard once again, it has given me a lifetime full of memories that I don’t know where I would be without.

So get your animals ready and get yourself into the show ring!