The well-known and accomplished Kay Adam, of Newhouse of Glamis, near Forfar, is the star attraction in this week’s Women in Agriculture feature.

Here she opened up to Kathryn Dick about her biggest career hurdles and most abiding memories.


I was brought up on the family farm in Perthshire and shadowed my dad around the farm to various markets and farm sales. I went to secondary school in Perth, which was handy for getting to the mart.

I did my fair share of skiving during February and October, and headed down the street to McDonald and Fraser’s mart for the famous Perth Bull Sales.

After school I completed a HND in Agriculture at SAC Edinburgh and my practical year was spent in West Sussex working for the Baird family. On leaving College I came home to work with our Westhall herd of cattle and sheep flocks.

Following a boozy night in the Waverley Hotel, in Perth, during the bulls sales, I shared a taxi back to the mart with Bob Adam, from Newhouse – and the rest is history!

Can you tell us a bit about your job and what it entails?

Now that my sons are working in the business, I seem to have been demoted to assistant in anything that I do at the farm! You’ll mostly find me with the cattle and sheep, educating bulls and lambing the Bluefaced Leicesters, but I can be let loose on tractors and I am still the main grain carter at harvest time.

When our hill shepherd left just before lambing a few years ago, I went up the glen with my caravan and a borrowed dog to undertake the hill lambing. I could have demanded anything that year as no one else wished to take on that role but all I got was orf!

The vast amount of paperwork keeps me busy, along with advertising our herd on social media. I think I’m quite a good organiser but I refuse to learn to drive the bedder or work the feeder wagon – as I’d then be the one left at home!

Favourite show?

My favourite agricultural show has always been the Royal Highland and I’ve only missed two years in my lifetime. The last few years I have been one of the beef stewards in the cattle sections, so the show is mostly work and not much play these days.

Islay Show is another I love to visit and let my hair down and we make our annual pilgrimage each year for a couple of nights.

Best and worst advice?

A saying – which could be a reference for humans and animals alike – dad would say ‘Kay can I give you some advice ... you can’t breed tame rabbits from wild ones!’. Having two boys in their early 20s, I hear this quite a lot.

The worst advice was to be told the electric fence is definitely switched off!

Job satisfaction?

It used to be clipping cattle, as I just love a good before and after picture. Lately, I have been superceded in that department but dressing our traditional Bluefaced Leicester tup lambs is a job I really enjoy and well worth the job satisfaction when you can see the end product.

Biggest disappointment?

Disappointments happen all the time, whether it be losing a big bull calf at calving; or a stupid ewe laying on the best single tup lamb; or getting a good bull put out of inspection for a reason you knew nothing about! However, you just have to move on – tomorrow’s another day!

Most influential person?

My late father was a huge influence in my career. From the day I told him at a very young age that I wanted to be a cattle wifey, he encouraged me to follow my farming dreams.

I also had the pleasure of working with one of the wizards within the beef cattle industry, the late Jim Donald. I would spend ages just watching him clip and dress cattle – he was a true master and a great teacher.

I must mention my boss from my student years, John Baird, as he taught me that I can do anything if I put my mind to it and reversing an artic’ trailer with a dolly is on my ‘can-do’ list!

Since dad died 10 years ago, I have been immensely proud of my mother, Mary Fotheringham, as she has run the farm and taken every day in her stride. I am now convinced that she has been the most influential person, guiding me through my agricultural career and life.

Biggest achievement?

I judged the Burke Trophy at the Three County’s Show, in 2014, and it was pretty special. Also being awarded an ARAGS by the Council for Awards of the Royal Agricultural Societies, for my services to youth development within the agricultural industry, was very rewarding.

Abiding memory?

The Royal Highland in 2019 and the prize giving of the stockmanship competition when our son, Andrew, won the best individual in the beef section. It was an amazing result and emotions were running high – it was even sweeter as I’d been one of the trainers that year.

Biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?

Hurdles are for jumping but I still have to clear a few. Nerves are a hidden hurdle for me, you’ll never see me manage breakfast before I have a judging job but thankfully as soon as I am in the ring they seem to disappear.

Each time I tackle a new job – whether it be driving a tractor and trailer through Perth, or putting a bull through the crate for inspection – nerves always get in the way. But I think it’s healthy to have them!

Spelling used to be a huge hurdle. I am such a bad speller and any of my college friends could tell you my assessments would have more red pen than black ink on the finished piece! Luckily, things have changed since then and we have spell check, predictive text and word processors!

As a result of all these magical tools for my dyslexic tendencies, I feel much more confident putting pen to paper.

Favourite breeds and why?

We work with Charolais, Limousin – both red and black– and most recently Aberdeen-Angus, but my favourite would have to be the black Limousins because they are so easy to work with and a good black bull is a joy to market. But when judging, a good beast is a good beast, no matter what colour of hair.

The sheep we have are Blackfaces, Cheviots and traditional Bluefaced Leicesters but the Blues will always be on top of my list, although the Cheviots are giving them a run for their money. The Blues are just full of character and I enjoy a challenge!

Main problems in agriculture?

We are mixed farmers and standards for production are set high, which come with a cost and I think one of our problems is convincing the UK population to buy British, or even better Scotch, at a price that we deserve.

I like nothing better than to convince someone to buy Scotch Lamb in the supermarket isle. Our standards are so superior and more supermarket buyers need to shop more on home soil. I do wonder what the effects of climate change will be for the generations to come and am sure we will have carbon audits for everything soon.

I would just love to see younger folk get a step on the ladder and into farms of their own – land is so expensive and just not becoming available to this group.

Outwith farming, are you involved in any other organisations?

All my activities are agricultural related – I am on the board of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland, which takes up a lot of my time and I sit on various committees within the board, as well as being director in charge of cattle lines and the young farmers at the Highland.

With my RHASS hat on, I sit on the board of the Moredun Foundation and also sit in on SAYFC council. I am on my local Angus RHET board and am a regular volunteer for them. I love to help out with young farmers and young handlers and I am a past president of the Young Limousin Breeders Club.

Advice for any female wanting to make a career in agriculture?

If you want it and are good enough, then go for it. I truly feel that no matter what gender you are, if you’re good enough for the job, then the job’s yours. I used to have really short hair as a child and trailing around markets with dad, I would often be misidentified as a young lad – I decided to grow my hair and have never looked back.

Favourite kist party?

My favourite kist party had to be in the Limousin lines at the Royal Show. I was always a bit partial to singing a good rugby song from hight and dancing the full line of the shed. They were just the best days.

Funny stories?

This story goes back to my days working for dad at Craighall. It was February Bull Sales and after a few refreshments, I would arrive home and proceed to check the Texel ewes that we had at that time.

I had noticed one had couped in the paddock beside the house, so she was put up to her feet and I made my way to the house. Once inside, a quick brush of my teeth and I was ready for bed, but as I was leaving the room, a large pile of bath towels must have looked so comfy and I decided to make that my wee bed for the night.

My father – a man of habit – would visit the shower room for his late night, or early morning pee to find me sleeping on the floor and he woke me. I happily told him my ewe was couped and the reply was ‘it’s no the blinking ewe that’s couped, it you! Now get to your bed!’

I was reminded of this by dad on many occasions and still mum has a wee jibe.

Concerns for the future?

I think the future of our industry is in safe hands and there is so much on offer to the youth of today to prepare them for a great career. Young breeders’ clubs have been a really positive influence and young handler competitions, along with rural stewardship programmes, are an enjoyable way to train for the future.

The introduction of social media has made everyone more aware of what’s going on within the industry – for both good and bad reasons. A great tool to help us get through the latest pandemic, but I am just so pleased snapchat wasn’t on the go when I was growing up!