This week’s Stockman of our Time is the much admired and talented Dennis Gall, who has enjoyed a very successful career as a stockman for several renowned herds.

Here he spoke with Kathryn Dick about his most memorable career highs and his hopes for the future of the show circuit.

  • Background?

I was born in 1951 and at two months of age, my family moved to Shiel Farm, in New Galloway, where my father, Hugh, worked as herdsman for I and A Jennings, working with 100 Silver Dun Galloway cows.

I spent my school years at Dalry School, where my day would consist of sitting in the classroom and looking out the window towards Shiel Farm – I regularly got into trouble for watching the farm rather than paying attention to the teacher!

In 1966 I spent a year studying agriculture at SRUC, at the Barony campus, before Arnold Sharp – manager for Lord Sinclair at Dalry – hired me as tractor man and allowed me to look after the 25 pedigree Galloways in 1967, for £7-10 shillings a week.

I married my wife, Margaret, in 1973 before welcoming our son Steven, in 1975, and then our daughter Angela in 1977. That same year, I moved to Castlemilk Farms where I worked as stockman for their Galloway and beef herds, and a few years later I was made livestock foreman for the seven in-hand farms, where I remained for 26 years. In 2003, after foot and mouth, I left my job to work for the Galloway family at Cardona, in Stirling, to manage their Aberdeen-Angus herd – I made many friends during my time there.

In December 2004, I moved to Grahams Livestock where I spent nine fantastic years before taking an early retirement and working as a freelance stockman for cattle and sheep for two years. I have since returned back to Lockerbie to be beside my family.

  • What got you into showing livestock in the first place?

As you can imagine, the only thing I had in my head was farming and following in my father’s footsteps into showing world. I used to get very excited before any local show, so much so that I never slept the night before!

  • What qualities do you like about the breeds that you work with over others?

I’ve mainly worked with three beef breeds over the years and all three have a lot of similarities. The present-day Angus is very growthy and their weight gain is phenomenal – on the whole, they are an easy breed to work with.

During my time working for Robert Graham, I couldn’t get over how quiet Limousin cattle were and the old brood cows had so much milk. It does worry me nowadays that Limousin breeders are too focused on the myostatin gene and muscle and forget about the milk requirement – that is one of the most important qualities to have in a breeding cow.

I have always been involved with Galloway cattle all my life and they are a breed that are close to my heart. I think the present-day Galloway breed is more suited to the modern hill farmer. Heifers can calf down at two-and-a-half-year-old, while steers are finished between 350-400kgs deadweight at 24-28 months-old and calves can be reared on the mother for their first nine months on the hill.

The Galloway is easy kept, easy calving, very low mortality and are a high health animal. I can’t help but wonder if this breed should had been recorded with figures behind them for the younger generation to see the future within this hill breed.

  • First Royal Highland Show?

My first show was in 1964, where I went with my father and slept in the float box! My first year as a herdsman was in 1971 representing Lord Sinclair. I stood 4th out of 7th, which was not what I had hoped for but I soon realised it was what I deserved.

  • Best animal that you’ve ever shown?

Amongst the Limousins was Grahams Samy, while Silverbell 3rd of Gallway was my favourite Galloway – she recently secured TSF’s champion of the decade title. The best Aberdeen Angus was Cardona Edwina and amongst the Berrichon sheep was Strathallan Show Girl, which stood Royal Highland and Royal Show champion.

  • Best animal that you’d ever seen?

Again, I have one for each: Foxhill Gracie was an eye-catching Limousin, closely followed by Brockhurst Bolshoi. In the Galloway’s I would say Blackcraig Kodiak was a favourite, which was shown by Willie McLean and Evesund of Dupplin was a cracking Angus. You can’t beat Strathallan Show Girl as a quality Berrichon ewe – she was perfect in every way.

  • Changes over the years?

The first big change would be the roads and transport to the shows. In the late 60’s, nine of us travelled to Smithfield in the back of a float beside the cattle, which was a very whiskey consuming voyage!

Another change was the importation of continental cattle and sheep, where suddenly everything got so much bigger! Also, in the olden days, more mature bulls and cows were shown whereas nowadays people are very much focussed on showing heifers and young bulls.

Farmers are introducing a lot more feed as animals are larger framed, resulting in not as many naturally fleshed animals. There is also a lot more stock women and many more young handlers, and with strong competition this can only be great for the future.

  • Abiding memory?

In 1997, on the centenary year of the Scottish national fat stock club, I was dressed up in a dinner suit and chauffeured to Perth City Hall by Jim Ross for the dinner and presentation of the Gold Steer Award, which I secured and was presented to by the Galloway family of Scotbeef. This title is only awarded every 100 years, which made it very special to be a recipient.

Another would be in 1998, where the entire Galloway inter-breed team was made up of Castlemilk Silver Dun Galloways and the senior bull was sire to the other three within the team. That was possibly the last time a Silver Dun Galloway team will attend the Highland.

I would also have to mention securing the Burke Trophy three years in successions, with Grahams Samy each year at the Royal Show, in 2007.

  • Biggest disappointment?

At the Highland Show, in 1967, I helped father with cattle and on the Tuesday morning we secured the champion Galloway title. However, I couldn’t celebrate the way I would’ve liked as I spent three and a half days in bed with the doctor tending to me in the old wooden huts. To this day I still don’t know what was wrong with me!

  • Most influential people?

My parents, Margaret, and my family as they have always been there for me. My parents put me on the right road to begin with and Margaret has kept me on that road – or tried to!

  • Favourite show and why?

I love them all, big or small, however, the old Smithfield Show was a personal favourite and you could always cut the tension with a knife during the championship announcement.

I like the Highland Show as it’s the first major show in the calendar and has that unknown factor about it as you haven’t seen the competition or what the judge will do. It welcomes the best stock you will see anywhere.

Nowadays, the Great Yorkshire Show is my favourite as it is more relaxed and you quite often meet old and new friends in the Galloway bar.

  • Best stockman?

I would say Dave Smith, or ‘Smithy’. I first met Dave in 1975 while watching him bring out the West Drum Galloways at Castle Douglas’ February sale. The way he had presented the top line, under line and legs was just perfection and he brought out the best in every animal he worked with. He was 20 years before his time within the Galloway breed.

Another would be Anne MacPherson as she always shows her cattle in great bloom while keeping them looking very natural.

Amongst the youngsters, I would say John Graham, of Burnbank, and Ali Jackson for their all-round ability and natural talent.

  • Best advice?

Do the hard work at home and the show week will look after itself. Also, pick your show team in September the year before and make sure animals are like a kitchen table – a big top and a leg in each corner and their head should look over the gate, not through it.

At the show, keep your animals in clean and tidy stalls – there is only one judge but there are hundreds of spectators looking on outwith the show ring. Take your beatings graciously and come back stronger the next time – every day is a school day.

  • Biggest showing achievement?

There are a few I want to mention, starting in 1973 where Lord Sinclair’s Galloway cow was a member of the Galloway team that won the inter-breed title for the first time at the Great Yorkshire Show. Also, in 1977, during the Galloway centenary year at Castle Douglas, I secured the top priced animal through the ring at both the February and October sales.

In 1997 was winning the Gold Steer Award, while in 1998 I won the champion and reserve Galloway titles at the Royal Highland Show, which was 100 years after Castlemilk had secured the same award, in 1888.

I was crowned Winter Fair champion live and dead with two different animals, in 2001, and in 2004 I won the Galloway champion title at the Royal Highland for my Gallway herd, as well as securing Angus female and reserve overall for Cardona.

In 2005, Grahams Samy stood champion Limousin and individual beef inter-breed at the Highland and champion at the Royal Show too. He also secured the Burke Trophy alongside my good friend and mentor, Dougie McBeath and between the Highland and the Royal Show, Samy was shown and led 11 inter-breed teams and pairs and was never beaten. He also produced the 2007 Highland champion in the form of daughter, Grahams Butterfly, while Samy stood reserve.

All in all, I’ve managed to bag 11 championships at the Royal Highland between cattle and sheep; nine championships at the Galloway February sale; two championships for Limousins at Perth and Stirling; Berrichon breed champion five times in succession at the NSA sale in Builth and twice at Carlisle.

Also, in 2014 after an early retirement, we won the junior and senior champion inter-breed titles at the Stars of the Future show with Ian and Wendy Callion.

  • Any hobbies?

The main hobby was when Margaret and I owned the Gallway herd for 14 years, as well as enjoying a wee bit of gardening. I love helping other people to prepare and advise them on show and sale cattle and sheep and I still get great satisfaction seeing them do well. I also enjoy going to shows just to see the livestock, meet friends and get the craic.

  • What’s the future of the show circuit?

I’m very grateful for all the young lads that have worked with me over the years, you know who you are. It wouldn’t have been easy, but you have all done exceptionally well. Hopefully Covid will go away but I feel as if we will have to learn to live with it.

We will have to try to support our local shows, which have always been the beginning and back bone for the national shows and I’m sure, with support, the national shows will keep going. There is no better way to promote your livestock, meeting old friends and new ones and having a gin, but we all have to make it happen again.