An Irishman by birth, who moved across the water to England, and married a Scottish lass – we caught up to hear the best of times from Jeff Aiken, of the Procters flock.

What’s your background?

I was born on the family farm at Carnew, just outing Dromara, Co Down, in Northern Ireland, and was brought up by my mother and father, Jim and Cynthia, alongside my two brothers, Jonathan and Jeremy.

I attended primary school only 200 yards down the road from the farm, which meant nipping home at break and lunch time to check the cows calving and ewes lambing! Perhaps maybe missing a bit of class ...

Thereafter, I went to Dromore High School for five years and then onto Greenmount Agri College for three years.

Our home farm consisted of a small dairy herd, pedigree Border Leicester, Bluefaced Leicesters and Charollais sheep. We would attend shows pretty much every Saturday during the summer and this was a great experience for me growing up, not only showing our own sheep but once our breed classes were finished, I would be found showing other breeds of sheep for fellow stocks people.

Your stockmen career and where it began?

In 2000, I did a Texel lambing for John Forsyth, at Glenside – I walked into John’s lambing shed and was blown away by the shear quality of sheep I saw. It’s still the best flock of Texel ewes I have ever seen and then I ended up being shepherd for John for five years.

Whilst at Glenside, I was hunted down by a mad Scottish woman called Jennifer ‘Annie’ MacTaggart and we were married in 2004.

In 2005, we then moved to North Yorkshire to work for the noted Hullhouse Texel flock and that’s where our two kids, Katie and Robbie, were born.

In 2009, we were then offered a job at Procter’s Farm to re-establish the Texel flock and that is where the family has been based now for the last 12 years.

What is it you look for in an animal?

My father always taught me that the first thing you look for in an animal is good legs and feet. It must be mobile. Then I look for good conformation and character.

What got you involved in showing to start with?

It is in the blood. My father’s Border Leicester flock is more than 100 years old, so showing livestock has been in the family for generations.

Has the breed changed for the better?

The Texel is the No 1 terminal breed in the UK not only for their ability to produce a quality prime lamb in a matter of weeks but also to produce females which, in turn, produce top quality prime lambs.

For me, the Texel breed went through a scary time when scrapie genotyping was introduced in the early 2000s and a lot of good tups were not getting used because they weren’t ARR/ARR. In reverse, a lot of tups were getting used because they were ARR/ARR which maybe weren’t the best quality wise.

It was a route breeders were forced down because the value was in ARR/ARR sired but, thankfully, the breed has come

through that and as long as we keep producing tups with skins, tops and ends, the future will be good for the Texel.

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

That’s an easy one, it would be hill type North Country Cheviots. I love them and I always make sure to watch their classes at the Royal Highland Show.

Best Highland Show achievements?

Probably 2015, when Procters won their first Texel championship with Procters Ulrika.

Biggest showing achievement?

We have been lucky enough to have a few but the one that sticks out is the 2019 Royal Welsh Show.

I am a family man and our son, Robbie, had just won champion Border Leicester and in the Texel classes Annie was standing male champion, Katie was standing reserve female and reserve overall and I was holding female champion and overall champion – all offspring of Sportsmans Batman. It was a very special family moment.

Best sale day?

The Scottish National Texel Sale 2021 when we sold Procters El Presidente for 80,000gns and averaged £22,905 for seven.

The Select Seven in-lamb sale in 2020 was another good day when we sold a gimmer for 46,000gns – a record price for an in-lamb gimmer – and cashed in at £13,685 for our pen of six.

What was the best animal you’ve ever shown?

It would have to be Procters Cinderella. What she achieved in the show ring as a ewe lamb was pretty special and she is also the dam of the 80,000gns Procters El Presidente.

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

I think there have been a few that deserve a mention, Cinderella is definitely up there along with the Beltex gimmer, Woodies City Girl – she stood out even to my brother, Johnny, who managed to pick her out when he judged the breed classes at the Highland.

Male wise, it would have to be the 350,000gns Double Diamond but my No 1 one would be Glenside Lulu ... what a beast.

I remember being at Glenside the day she was born. She was a twin out of a gimmer and she was coming tail first, we decided to give it a pull and it was a BIG pull but thankfully in a few minutes she was up and suckling.

Abiding memory?

Robbie winning champion young handler at the Royal Highland Show in 2015 when he was only six and Katie being the first to win the Dalchirla Trophy at the Highland in 2019 for champion of champions young handler.

Biggest disappointment?

When it comes to showing and selling livestock you will always have disappointments, days you think you should have done better and there are also days you do better than you thought.

But my biggest disappointment came outside farming when I was originally picked for Ireland U20s squad to travel to Argentina for the Rugby World Cup, when the qualifying birth date – for some reason – was moved to January 1 and my birthday was in December, that one hurt a bit!

Have you missed out on a big purchase you wanted?

This year at Kelso when myself and three fellow breeders missed out on the 65,000gns shearling, Campsie Drambuie.

Most influential person in your career?

My mother and father. Whether it be rugby or farming, they supported me 100%.

My wife, Annie – she is a tremendous stocks person and I would not have achieved half as much if I didn’t have her by my side.

Your choice of best stockman/shepherd ever?

There is so many. The Wight family from Midlock; Ian and Patsy Hunter, Dalchirla; John Forsyth, Glenside; the Goldie family, Goldies; and my father in-law, Brian MacTaggart – as long as you can put up with all the crap he talks!

But I would probably have to say Mr Texel himself, Keith Jamieson, of Annan, whether it be dairy or sheep, he is a master at it all and over the years if anyone wanted to start a Texel flock, they went to Annan. Now in his 90th year, he is still going strong.

Who has the best kist parties?

Every kist party is a good one but my old pal Beachy knows how to throw a good one. He has one every year at the Highland Show – the only problem is it lasts from the Wednesday lunchtime until the early hours of Sunday morning!

Favourite quote?

An hour in the morning is worth two in the day.

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

For our family to have our own farm – maybe one day!

Best advice for someone starting out in the industry?

If possible go out and get as much experience as possible working on different farms and working for various people. When it comes to buying stock, try and buy from a good breeding family.

Best investment?

The 100,000gns Sportsmans Batman – Annie nearly killed me when I bought him but, thankfully, he has been an exceptional breeder and I was able to prove her wrong – not that she would admit it – it is a MacTaggart thing!

Judging experience?

I have been lucky enough to judge all over the UK and Ireland and even done a bit of judging whilst on a Texel trip in Switzerland.

The biggest one to date would be being asked back home in 2012 to judge the Royal Ulster Balmoral Show.

How do you keep Katie and Robbie so keen on farming?

It is in the blood. Breeding pedigree stock goes back generations on both sides of the family.

They both have their daily chores to do and Robbie is in charge of his small flock of Border Leicesters and Katie is in charge of the Beltex flock. To be honest, Katie is just in charge!

Are you involved in any committees or have any hobbies?

I am currently vice-chairman of the Texel Sheep Society and chairman of the Northern Area Texel Club. I am also a huge rugby fan and I help out coaching Robbie’s age group at Kirkby Lonsdale RFC.

With Jennifer obviously being a Scottish lass, the tensions can get a bit high when the Six Nations are on.

The future of the showing circuit?

I think after the past 18 months or so we all have realised how important the future of shows are, not just to present your stock but to socialise.

Farming can be a stressful occupation and shows provide that day or two away to meet up for a drink and a bit of craic. At the tup sales this year I even found myself talking to Dougie Fleming and Brian Gilchrist, and that’s when I suddenly realised I need to get out more!

Could you imagine your life without showing?

No I couldn’t. I love watching Katie and Robbie and all the young handlers competing, and catching up with old friends and making new ones. Showing definitely provides all that.