After having a long and successful career as a respected stockman, from showing cattle to judging them at prestigious shows, Jimmy Laing, from Tain, is still going strong in the showring.

The veteran showman shares his long and illustrious career showing cattle.

What is your background?

“I left school at the age of 16 and started working alongside my father, in 1958. He was also a stockman, who was working for the McKenzie family, at Cullisse, near Tain. At that time we were working with primarily Aberdeen-Angus cattle and other than the usual routine, we took them to summer shows and the Perth Bull Sales.”

“In 1960, I left Cullisse to go work at Oykel A-A Farms, near Invergordon, where I spent four years before moving back home to Wester Fearn.

“I married my wife, Sheena, in 1970 and then began working for an oil company, which took me abroad to Brazil for two years. When my time within the oil industry came to an end, I headed to the Isle of Mull, where I worked with the Auchnacraig Highland cattle fold for a few years, before coming back to Invergordon.”

What got you into showing?

“My father encouraged me into showing livestock. I had always tried to follow in his footsteps as he was a well-respected stockman and I caught the showing bug very quickly.

“The first time I led cattle was at the age of nine, at the Black Isle Show, where I received a first prize rosette with my little Aberdeen-Angus calf and, as you can imagine, I was thrilled!”

What was your first RHS?

“My first show was in 1961, where I got placed second with the two-year-old Aberdeen-Angus heifer, Evensong Ewshott. I then headed to the Royal Show at Cambridge, where I stood fourth with the same animal before travelling to the Great Yorkshire Show and getting tapped out as first.

“The same animal eventually won the champion title at the Northern County Show, in Inverness, and at the Black Isle Show the same year, so I was delighted.”

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

“It has to be an Aberdeen-Angus heifer that we took to Perth Show and Sale – Oykel Evening Start. She ended up standing as champion that day before going on to be bought as one of the foundation females for the Castle of Mey herd, belonging to the Queen Mother.”

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

“I would say the Shorthorn bull, Fearn Godfather. He is the son of Dakota of Upsall – a bull I had previously shown at a variety of shows.

“Both bulls were a good representation, in my eyes, of what a good Shorthorn bull is meant to look like.”

Changes over the years – good and bad?

“There are not so many cattlemen on farms these days, which is sad to see as it’s a very rewarding profession.

“Technology plays a big part in the declining numbers. The modern farmer can do multiple tasks by himself when, in times gone by, you would’ve needed three or four men to help with the day-to-day running of the farm.

“A change I have also noticed in the markets are that the cattle age classes at bull sales have altered greatly, for example. When I started, the oldest in the classes at bull sales were 14 months old, which resulted in a lot of people thinking that the Aberdeen-Angus breed, for example, were small at a year old.

“So, it has been beneficial to the breed that today they have added a year on – and this, in my opinion has helped the Aberdeen-Angus breed’s reputation.”

You’re most abiding memory?

“That would be when I sold Fearn Auchnacraig, a Highland heifer calf, in 1994. It was the same year as the opening of the Oban market and I received 4000gns for her, which was a lot of money back in those days!”

“I sold her to a Mrs Wain, from Derbyshire, who had a very successful show season with that heifer, which was heartening to see.”

Biggest disappointment?

“I’ve never had a big disappointment in my stockman career so far, but my biggest disappointment in general would be losing my wife, in 2015.

“She accompanied me to all the shows and sales and I miss her dearly. It’s now the job of my daughters, Helen and Sonya, to keep me right – if they can – but it’s a big job!”

Most influential person in your career?

“In the early days it would’ve been Alastair Rettie, of Barnoldby, however, more recently it has to be my best friend, Rich Thomson.

“Richard and I have been friends for more than 30 years. I admire that he brings out cattle to perfection and he always seems to know the best way to handle them and show off their best qualities.

What’s been your favourite show over the years?

“It has to be my local show, Sutherland Show, more recently because my brother stood champion of champions with an Aberdeen-Angus cow.

“It’s also a popular event – you tend to find people travel from all over to attend. I like it because I can catch up with old friends I haven’t seen in a while – but I guess you find that with a lot of shows. The smaller ones are often the better ones!”

Your choice of best stockman ever?

“Again, I’d say Rich Thomson. He just has a way with cattle and I’ll always admire his dedication to the job and the livestock he worked with. He’s a master – and he turns himself out well too!”

Best advice for a newcomer to showing?

“To not get ahead of yourself and take the time to prepare the livestock you are working with. Show cattle are not produced in a day.

“I’ve seen people not halter break a beast until a month before the show or sale and I don’t believe that does any good. So, it’s not what I would say, but what I’d do. Prepare that animal as soon as it’s off the mother, it makes the job a lot easier and less stressful for both the animal and the stockman.”

Biggest showing achievement?

“I have had a few achievements over the years, including being asked to judge the Highland cattle section at the Royal Welsh Show, in 2019, and also receiving the New Cuil Salver, presented for the best ambassador of the Salers breed, at their society sale, in 2016.

“However, my biggest would have to be securing the champion of champions honours at Nairn Show, in 2015, with the then five-year-old Shorthorn bull, Dakota of Upsall. That was one for the memory bank – and one which the celebrations did not dull!”


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