Having achieved his life-time goal of producing a champion at the Scottish National Fat Stock Club’s Livescot event, there was no better timing to speak with Duncan Semple, of Dippen Farm, in Kintyre, who has bred quality suckled calves for 30 years – many of them champions and Dippen is a regular stop-off for those looking for show calves.

What’s your background?

Having left school early at the age of 15, after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I knew my career was going to be at home. I started working straight away, milking 30 Ayrshire cows and looking after our suckler herd of 70 Hereford and Shorthorn cross cows. That made me the fifth generation of the Semple family who has farmed Dippen since 1867.

In the 1990s we moved over to using continental cattle due to market forces and we are now running 60 black Limousin cross cows and 15 pedigree Charolais females, under the Carradale prefix.

The main aim in the herd is the commercial market, with all pedigree bulls being sold at home privately and are used within the herd for breeding suckled calves.

In addition to the cattle, we have a small flock of 360 ewes to make the most of our 1200 acres here at Dippen Farm, in Kintyre.

What got you involved in showing to start with?

I got involved by watching the locals who were good at it and learning from them, in the hope that one day I could be as good as them.

Being so far down the coast away from the Central Belt we didn’t have too many mentors to be able to learn from, so we had to take any learning opportunities when we could.

What is it you are looking for in an animal?

A show calf must walk correctly. Its head must be flashy, it should have a loin full of width and a hind quarter with broad plates and a depth of second thigh.

It is easy enough saying what we want, but it is it quite difficult getting it all in one!

What is the secret behind breeding those special calves?

By breeding the sires of those calves!

By not having to fork out the big money for a bull that MIGHT click in our herd, I feel if you breed a bull, you know how it is going to work and you can make adaptations for the future. Whereas, when you buy one you have no guarantees how it will breed!

When can you tell it will be a show star?

When it wins a show! Also, a lot of it depends on which home it goes to…

Chosen breed’s place in the commercial market?

The Charolais is the number one in the commercial market, with steer and heifer calves consistently averaging £150 above all other breeds.

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

Limousins as they are the showiest breed, although commercially they don’t come near a Charolais.

Biggest achievement?

The consistency of quality calves I have bred in the last 30 years. Continuing to sell them in the same market centres – Stirling, Dalmally and Oban – we are averaging 60 leaving the farm annually, with the aim of keeping that stamp of quality throughout.

Best sale day?

Receiving £4000 for the five-month-old Charolais cross steer, Thunderthighs, in 1995 at Caledonian Market, Stirling. It was a huge amount at that time and still is for that age!

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

The Charolais cross heifer calf, Midges Galore, in 2005. She won the Caledonian Market, Stirling, show and sale when we sold her. She was just inch perfect in every way.

But what was the best animal that you’d ever seen?

The Limousin cross bullock, The Bandit from Ewan and Donald MacPherson, having been bred by James McKay, in Caithness. He had a Charolais mother – that was why he was so good!

Another that deserves a mention is Dancing Queen from Hugh Dunlop, Holehouse. For me that was all the more special as we bred her mother.

Biggest disappointment?

Missing out on judging the baby beef section at the Agri Expo at Carlisle this year due to ill health.

Most influential person in your career?

My father and late grandfather were my two role models in my younger days, but I learnt most about the bringing out and showing of suckled calves from the late John Warnock, of Killocraw, which is not far away.

Your choice of best stockman ever?

The consistency of John and Craig Robertson, Newton of Logerait, takes some beating. They are outstanding breeders of suckled calves and are producing the very best all the time.

Favourite quote?

If you could take jealously out of the world, it would be a great place to live.

Best advice?

They say never judge a book by its cover. On the same basis, never judge a bull by its figures.

Best investment?

Buying our first Charolais female in 1982 privately, with everything still going back to her. We believe it is far better to breed them, although it might take you 10 years to get anywhere with them. Patience is key.

Judging experience?

I have judged numerous shows around the country, but Orkney stands out as a wonderful show, great people and tremendous stock. I would go back to it every year if it wasn’t so far away!

Problems in the industry?

The farming industry is hugely misrepresented by the media in all aspects.

Something you thought you would never achieve but have?

Managing to breed the reserve champion at Smithfield, Agri Expo at Carlisle and the Scottish National Fat Stock Club’s Livescot, I thought I couldn’t achieve any more … until the end of November, 2021, when we managed to breed the supreme champion at Livescot at Lanark in the shape of Silver Lining, which was superbly brought out by Craig and Teen Malone.

The future of the showing circuit?

There is an abundance of youthful stockmen and women willing to buy and show calves, but my worry for the future is that there are not enough people there to breed them. Firstly, there are not as many calf breeders about and, secondly, having the ability to do it consistently every year can only be achieved by experience.