FEW cattlemen have enjoyed as much success with commercial cattle over the years, than Aberdeenshire’s Blair Duffton, who in recent years has teamed up with farmer’s daughter, Rebecca Stuart, to bring out top quality show calves across Scotland, and further afield. 

Blair, who was brought up on his family’s farm – Mains of Drumdollo, Huntly – has had a strong passion for livestock for more than 25 years now, having first started out as a trainee auctioneer at just 16-years-old when Hamilton Auction Mart opened Huntly Mart, in August, 1991. 

“Commercial cattle have become a big part of me and I just live for the summer shows,” said Blair, who spent 10 years at Huntly as an auctioneer and now works for Backmuir Livestock, Keith. He buys an impressive 150,000 sheep and 16,000 cattle annually, sourced from as far north as Shetland and down into Forfar, for local farmers and slaughterhouses. 

“I have three men to thank for getting me where I am today, all of which are sadly no longer here. The late Ewen Macarthur, Newton of Budgate, Cawdor, who was managing director of Hamiltons and my boss and mentor for four years, and then there are the late Gordon Wilson, Bogs of Paithnick, Keith, and the late Harry Emslie snr, Braes of Coynach, Mintlaw, who were serious masters when it came to bringing out stock.”

Rebecca, who hails from Murrial, Insch, and is a nutritionist with East Coast Viners, is equally as passionate about exhibiting cattle. “I had never shown cattle up until five years ago but since then it has become a hobby and it’s a great way of meeting new people,” said Rebecca. 

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Having only ever showed sheep in his younger years, Blair’s first show calves were purchased in 1991 from the Laings, at Lower Gaich, Grantown-on-Spey, and they certainly gave him the momentum to continue. 

So it was, that the following year at the famous Royal Smithfield Show, Blair purchased Pollyanna, a Limousin cross heifer, for £920 from the Slacks at Newby, Penrith. Pollyanna well and truly paid her way for Blair when she stood overall champion at the Spring Show in 1993, giving him his first ever championship, before being kept at home for a cow. 

Those years after included many more highlights for Blair, especially in 2004 at Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ Christmas Classic where he achieved his first championship with a heifer, as well as winning the bullock championship and butchers’ section. He won the same title four years later and produced a record price of £8000 when he sold his champion named Munchkin, a Limousin cross stot bred by George Macarthur, Mid Fleenas, Nairn, which Blair purchased for £1300 from its second owner. 

Blair commented that the scale of commercial cattle production in the north and North-east had certainly decreased since his early years in the game. “When I started my showing, there was nowhere like Morayshire, Aberdeenshire and those surrounding areas for top quality commercial calves. They were the best of the best.

“Nowadays, although the stock up here is still very good in quality, you struggle to find plenty of them. Farmers don’t have the same time or staff they did and it’s an expensive job showing cattle,” said Blair, adding that he takes his hat off to the stockman in the North and North-east who do a tremendous job, especially the younger generation. 

Blair’s a big supporter of the younger ones in the cattle world, especially when they compete in Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ Young Farmers overwintering competition. At this year’s sale of YF calves in March, he bought 32 of the 44 forward and still made a bid on the remaining 12 which he never got. But with the result of fewer good calves in the country, Blair and Rebecca have had to source some of their recent prize winners and upcoming calves from Ireland and Wales. 

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“I would love to buy Scottish-bred cattle, but it’s a hard task finding them. We prefer to buy black Limousin crosses with a bit of British Blue in them, but Charolais cross calves have done just as well. It’s heifers that we mainly concentrate on buying as there is always a way out with them and they usually sell to repeat customers for breeding,” commented Blair. 

The duo’s first win together in 2012 was with Super Ally, a Limousin stot bought at the Spring Show from the Robertsons, at Easter Fodderletter, Tomintoul, for £4200. He picked up various tickets and went on to win the Scottish beef championship at Keith Show – a title which Blair and Rebecca have now won four times. However, it was in December, 2016, that went down as 'the best ever' for Blair and Rebecca, when they scored a unique double by standing supreme champion at the Christmas Classic, and minutes later made history by being the first Scots to win the overall title at the Welsh Winter Fair. 

Scooping the title at Thainstone and selling for a top price of £4000 was Oucha Baby, a Limousin cross heifer bred by Graham Henderson, Murrayfield, Caithness. Born in June, 2015, she was by the 32,000gns Hunters Hall Gladiator, out of a Limousin cross cow, and was bought at the Spring Show for £1500. She sold to Louise Forsyth, of WTS Forsyth Butchers, Peebles, and killed out at 74.6% – a best ever figure for the firm – with a U+3 carcase grade. 

While Blair and Rebecca were celebrating their win at Thainstone, little did they know that Tip Top, a Limousin cross stot purchased for £2300 at Brecon Future Calf sale from Colin Philips, Hereford, was crowned supreme down in Wales. Bred out of a Limousin cross dam, he had won the commercial section at Turriff, Tarland and Banchory that summer, and sold to North Yorkshire butcher, Anthony Kitson, Yarm, for £4000. 

And it just kept on getting better for the pair this summer when they brought out the unbeatable Gold Rush, a Charolais cross heifer, out of a Limousin cross British Blue cow, bought at Dungannon in the Spring. She was shown at nine shows and won every one, as well as being crowned the Scottish beef champion at Keith. Gold Rush recently sold to Gary Bell, Haas Grove, Lockerbie, who has been a regular buyer of Blair’s prize winners. 

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It was a similar story with their bullock named Thunderball, a Limousin cross bought at Dingwall, in February, for £870 from Sheuglie Farms, Glenurquhart, which also stood first at all nine shows. He was part of the group of three which scooped an impressive seven inter-breed championships. 

Another calf that did well for the duo in 2014 and which also sold to Gary Bell for a cow, was Lady MoMo, a Limousin cross heifer bred by Grant Morrison, Newtack, Keith. 

“Our show season begins at the Highland, where for the past two years we’ve taken 13 beasts and managed to scoop the female and male championships,” said Blair, adding that they attend summer shows from as far south as Angus and as north as Tarland. 

It’s a team effort bringing out these calves though and one lady that Blair and Rebecca both comment they couldn’t do so without is Debbie Watt from New Deer, who has been part of the team for five years, showing throughout the summer, as well as carrying out most of the clipping before shows.

Blair concluded: “Both Rebecca and Debbie are brilliant at what they do. Females just seem to have the finesse for showing cattle.”

After a busy summer across the north and North-east, the team are now gearing up for three prestigious Christmas shows – Thainstone’s Christmas Classic on Monday, November 27 and Tuesday, November 28; today's (Saturday) LiveScot at Lanark; and the Welsh Winter Fair staged the same two days as the Classic at the Royal Welsh Showground.

Forward for the Christmas Classic will be a team of seven which includes six Scottish-bred Limousin cross bullocks and heifers and an Irish-bred Charolais cross heifer calf named Revolution. She was bred by Piers MacNamee and stood first in her class at the Agri-Expo, having purchased her just two months ago. And, they also have four to be shown at LiveScot this weekend and four for the Welsh Winter Fair.