An active career of 80 years has produced many achievements for James McMillan, now of Brechin.

James – better known as Jimmy – was one of 12 children born to Janet and John McMillan, Eskechraggan, Rothesay, Isle of Bute, where their dairy farm also famously bred Clydesdales, with both kinds of stock being shown locally.

After returning from National Service in 1954, Jimmy joined his brother, John – already a successful exhibitor at fatstock shows. Jimmy went on to purchase his first Galloway cross calves, one of which went on to win commercial champion at their local show the following year and from that moment, he was hooked!

In 1961, Jimmy married Margaret Fyfe, and they went on to have four children – Carol Ann, James, Gordon and Scott – and since then there have been many changes to their lives!

Firstly, moving from Bute in 1966 to join his sister, Annie and her husband, John, at Damside of Dun, Montrose. As Lohoar and McMillan, they showed commercial cattle and achieved success at numerous local shows as well as the Royal Highland.

The next move took Jimmy to join Peter and Sheelagh Donger, at Seawell Grounds, Northamptonshire, in 1987, to become the herd manager of the Charolais herd.

This brought Jimmy to his first retirement age of 67, when he headed up to Scotland, where he continued to show his Dunesk herd.

That retirement didn’t last long! As well as running his own herd, he brought out Belted Galloways, Herefords and Aberdeen-Angus, for Tom Rennie and Son, Mosston Muir, Guthrie.

One that continued the success, Mosstonmuir Primrose, along with her daughter and son won the Belted Galloway championship at the Royal Highland Show on seven occasions – so there was no stopping Jimmy!

He retired again in 2018 at the age of 84, after the sale of his last animal, but as showing is in his blood he continued to assist John Steel, at Westdrums, Brechin, with his Aberdeen-Angus herd. So, at the ripe old age of 86, it’s now perhaps time to take things easy!

What is your chosen breed?

My favourite breed would be the Charolais, it is one that I have worked with most over the years and I know the breed well.

What got you involved in showing to start with?

Having been raised on a farm, and encouraged by my father, John, who enjoyed showing, I learnt from a young age and I followed in his footsteps.

My sons James, Gordon and Scott, along with my nephews John, David and Martin Lohoar, have all helped with showing the cattle over the years – it has very much been a family affair!

Gordon and his wife, Angie, have been a great help to me since I returned to Angus, taking holidays to assist me at the Royal Highland and many local shows.

My eldest son, James, followed me into the cattle breeding industry and has achieved enormous success on the showing circuit in his own right, of which I am extremely proud.

When was your first Royal Highland?

That was in the early 1970s with commercial cattle. I can’t quite remember how many we had entered that day. We did gain a ticket, but no major championships were won that day – however that just made me more determined.

There is a lot of hard work involved in preparing show cattle – from the time you see the potential in a calf to having it at 12 o’clock on show day, huge amounts of clipping, washing and walking take place. However, all the hard work is worth it when you get to meet up with great friends all striving for that red ticket!

Between Mr and Mrs Donger’s Seawell herd and my own Dunesk herd, we produced the reserve Charolais champions in 1990, 1995, 1998 and 2000, we were breed champion in 1991, 1992, 1994, 2000, 2005 and 2008 and even taking the overall show champion in both 1992 and 1994.

What is the best animal you’ve shown?

Not only the best animal I have ever shown, but the best animal I have ever seen would undoubtedly have to be Kilkenny Celia. She won the supreme title at many shows in her time as well as the three Royal shows.

Not only did she excel at local shows, but she also attained Royal Highland Show champion in 1992 and 1994, as well as Charolais champion in 1991, 1992 and 1994, and reserve champion in 1990.

She was sired by MMB Occidental and out of Kilkenny Venessa.

Changes over the years?

A lot has changed in the breeds. Breeders now prefer them to be lighter in style and probably smaller in size, with big backends. However, I think they still need good conformation and be good on their legs.

Farming is much harder these days, especially for young people trying to make a living. Many have to diversify and it is good to see youngsters keen to be involved in the show circuit.

I have seen many generations of the same family during my lifetime on the circuit and, hopefully, the show circuit will continue to thrive for many years to come.

Abiding memory?

The highlight of my time at Seawell was definitely winning the ‘Grand Slam’ of the Royal shows in 1992 with Kilkenny Celia. She won the Highland, Royal, Royal Welsh and the Great Yorkshire.

Another memorable achievement for my family was lifting the Royal Smithfield supreme title in 1975 with Lulu. After which, we attained reserve champion in both 1977 and 1981 – all of which were unforgettable to me.

Biggest disappointment?

My biggest disappointment was leaving my herd behind in Northamptonshire when I retired to Scotland in 2001, as a result of the restrictions placed on cattle movement due to the foot-and-mouth disease.

After the all clear was given, a very good friend, Jim Muirhead, of Firhills, kindly allowed me to keep my cattle on his farm so that I could continue to show my Dunesk herd.

Most influential people?

There have been many over the years, but two that I have met that were outstanding were Fred Smith and Sandy Beaton – their advice was invaluable.

Your choice of best stockman?

The late Dave Smith. He was a LEGEND! No matter which breed he was showing, the cattle were always brought out to perfection!

The best kist parties?

The ones at the Royal Highland have to be down the Aberdeen-Angus, Charolais and Highland lines – there are always great friends about to have a laugh with!

However, my best kist party was in 1975 when Lulu won Smithfield, in London. A great night ... from what I can remember!

Interests outwith farming?

I used to play shinty for Bute and Inveraray, where I twice achieved a runner’s up medal in the Camanachd Cup (premier competition in the sport). I was also the Scottish Cumberland wrestling champion at four different weights. Football and curling were also sports I participated in.

Farming did not allow for many holidays, apart from days away at the shows. However, since retiring I have regularly visited my daughter, Carol Ann and her family when they lived in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, along with trips to Tenerife, USA, New Zealand, Australia and Canada for some R and R.

Future of showing?

I think the show circuit has become quite an expensive hobby. What with regulations, paperwork, haulage and time away from the everyday farming, I’m sure it must put a strain on many exhibitors but it is also your shop window. So long may it continue!

I have had the pleasure of working with some wonderful people over the years – my family at Damside; Sheelagh and Peter Donger; Jim Muirhead; Tom Rennie; Ian and Madge Anderson, and John Steel – and I will always be grateful for their support!

I have had an amazing life being part of the show circuit and can honestly say, if I had my time again, I wouldn’t change a thing!

I hope to see all the stockmen and women back in the ring in 2021!