By Julie Wight

A stockman/woman duo that need no introduction on the show circuit, Richard and Carol Rettie open up and share their experiences with The Scottish Farmer.

Based near Perth, the husband and wife team run 150 cattle, between Aberdeen-Angus, Charolais and Beef Shorthorns, across 150 acres of land rented from Alan and Helen Doig.

After getting married in 1996, then starting up their own livery and freelance stockmen business in 1997, there have been many successes over the years with little if any free time on their hands!

Most years, they would have in excess of 20 head of cattle of several breeds from various clients covering the length and breadth of the UK, plus their own, to show at the Royal Highland Show, making them one of the biggest exhibitors.

“We need to be well organised. There’s seven days in a week, 24 hours in a day and in the build up to shows, we use all of the days and most of the hours, but the hard work has to be done ... and sometimes it pays off! The livery cattle always come first, with our own just having to fit around a very busy schedule,” said Richard.

Carol added: “Normally we are busy all year, with January being the only month we don’t have a show or sale, with bull sales, calf shows and all the summer shows, there are always plenty of events to keep us busy!”

Carol works part time in the local vets, whilst Richard is at home full time by himself, with the help of freelance stockmen/women in the build up to and during shows and sales, including sons, Jamie and Chas and also Carol’s mum who is a dab hand at ironing 20 plus white coats at a time. That makes it a real team effort!

What is your favourite breed?

We mainly run Aberdeen-Angus for ease of management when we are away from home as much. Easy born calves that want to get up on their feet and suckle for themselves, is a huge advantage.

The modern Angus ticks all the boxes for that and the fact that lower carcase weight are the ‘in thing’ and they are mainly grass fed, keep the plus points going.

What got you involved in showing to start with?

“My first involvement in showing, was when I ventured down to the Royal Show in 1982 to help Sandy Beaton with Charolais cattle and Pete Dowlman (Piccolo Pete) with Herefords, which really inspired me into the job. It all really followed on from there, after meeting David Benson at the show and on leaving school I went to work with David, for Billy Turner, at Brampton Charolais,” said Richard.

Carol added: “After working as a farm secretary in several places, I didn’t fully pick up the showing bug until I met Richard, although I was always interested and followed my uncle, Ian Anderson’s show career from afar, but I never had a chance myself.

First Royal Highland show success?

“It was 1989 that I first exhibited at the Royal Highland Show with Charolais cattle for Billy Turner and took a second prize ticket. However, since going free-lance, our first breed win came in 2006 with a Beef Shorthorn cow,” said Richard.

Overall, at the Highland Show, they have produced two Hereford champions, five Beef Shorthorns – three in a row for Mark Holmes – one Aberdeen-Angus (home-bred, but brought out for Donald Rankin, from Skye), and reserve Angus twice, once for their own herd.

What is the best animal you have ever shown?

“The Charolais heifer, Alwent Image, from Tom Bissett, Reading, was one of the best we have brought out for the sheer size and power of her, winning several county shows down in England.

“Being short listed in the champions of decades among the Aberdeen-Angus, Retties Lady Ruth won the Highland in 2016 and will always be one of our favourite champions,” they agreed.

Where there is a slight disagreement is in their favourite Beef Shorthorns – Richard picked out Trowbridge Tessa Lindsay, last year’s Royal Highland champion, whilst Carol has a soft spot for Cairnsmore Thrasher, which won the Highland, inter-breed at the Great Yorkshire and reserve inter-breed at the Royal Show in 2008.

But what is the best animal you have ever seen?

“Our popular choice among the Charolais, Kilkenny Ceila, was brought out by Jimmy McMillan. She was an outstanding cow of her time, well fleshed and a real show animal, shining every time she went into the show ring.

“Among the Herefords, it would have to be, Romany 1 Captain, a very modern bull with a good backend that always sticks in our minds.

“Thinking back to my younger days, in 1992, it was Smithy with Cambusbarron Precious Pollot. Perhaps out of date now, but she was the first Angus that took my eye, just being full of style and quality, with a beautiful head,” said Richard.

Abiding memory?

“The atmosphere I witnessed at my first ever Royal Show at the age of just 14 years old, was one that will always stick with me while watching the Burke Trophy being judged and listening to the commentary. Plus, one that I think everyone will always miss is being in the Herdsmen’s at the Royal Highland Show,” said Richard.

Carol added: “Winning the Great Yorkshire Show in 2008 with Cairnsmore Thrasher was an amazing feeling – and one I could never forget. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and we got to meet HM The Queen… or she got to meet us should we say!”

Biggest achievement?

“Building up our business starting from scratch and getting to where we are now. We have, and have had, a lot of great clients to work with, and are proud of what we have achieved over the years.

“Winning the John Miller Perpetual Challenge Trophy in 2008 at the Highland Show was an immense honour.

“Among the cattle, for me it would have to be taking champion at Stirling Bull Sales in 2006 with Cardona Jewel Eric for Ian and Robbie Galloway, before he went on to sell for 38,000gns,” said Richard.

“Last year bringing out two National show champions at the Great Yorkshire was a very special day for us. We were Beef Shorthorn with Trowbridge Tessa Lindsay for Tom McMillan, and Charolais champion with Bassett Nadia for Brailes Livestock. Add to that, reserve champion among the Aberdeen-Angus for Donald Rankin and reserve junior champion with our own. But none of this could have been achieved without our trusty, hard working team.

Biggest disappointment?

“Not so much a disappointment, but it was bitter-sweet winning the Royal Highland with our home-bred heifer, Retties Lady Ruth, for Donald Rankin, but my Dad not being able to come to witness it, as he was very ill in hospital at the time. When I told him the news on my next visit, he said she was always a good beast and gave me a thumbs up – this sadly turned out to be my last conversation with him,” said Carol.

Richard added: “Walking round the cattle lines at the Highland Show the night before judging and realising my dreams would be shattered for another year! Also, the ending of the Royal Show really was the end of an era!”

Most influential person in your career?

“Both our fathers – Alistair Rettie and Mac Anderson – inspired each of us as youngsters, into a farming career and always encouraged, and helped us through.

“I’ve always admired my uncle Ian and so pleased to get the chance to follow in his footsteps, albeit big boots to fill, but good fun trying! The encouragement usually happened in the bar!,” said Carol.

Richard added: “Sandy Beaton and Pete Dowlman, started my career in showing cattle and I will always be thankful for them giving me that first experience.

What’s been your favourite show over the years and why?

“The Highland Show is always the one to win, but it’s got to be the Great Yorkshire Show, the atmosphere there is unique with the wee bars at the end of the cattle lines. It is a more informal show and more relaxing for us.

“By the time the Great Yorkshire comes around, you have a rough idea of what other cattle are on display, and where you lie in the pecking order!

Your choice of best stockman?

Without a doubt for both of us it would be Dave Smith. His ability to bring high quality cattle out consistently was admirable. All of his hard work was done at home and that was clearly shown through the animals he brought out. He was one of a kind and a great character all round.”

Who has got the best kist parties?

“Charlie and Karen MacLean, down the Charolais lines, are the party animals, and we can’t ever remember leaving one of their parties …”

Changes over the years?

“Generally, heads and legs aren’t as good as they used to be. However, over the years, cattle have got thicker and better fleshed to suit the modern market.

“Among farming, there isn’t the same number of staff on farms as there used to be, it is now usually the stockmen’s wives and kids that lend a hand, rather than a second or third man being sent to the bigger shows.

“Stockmen are now being asked to judge at some shows, which is great progress, but when we started, breed societies would never have stockmen on judging panels, it would always have to be the owners of the livestock.”

Interests out with farming?

“The majority of our time is spent bringing out cattle, so we don’t have time for much else. However, we do receive a few requests from youngsters to come and help us at shows, and we love bringing them on board and helping them engage in the industry.

“It is all about bringing the next generation through and supporting them with the work that is involved to create a future for them.”

The future of the showing circuit?

We do believe the showing world has a strong future. Once Covid-19 is all passed, people will be desperate to get out and about again and support all their shows.

“We have loved them for many years and just hope they do continue. It’s where lifetime friendships are made.

“There are enough youngsters keen and able to continue the success of shows that has already been ongoing ... or at least we hope so!