Born and bred at the family farm at Blackford, farmer’s daughter Anne MacPherson thrives on showcasing her talent in the show ring.

There is not much she has not achieved over the years, as she reminisced on her past times in the showing circuit and the sale ring.

Currently the family run a herd of 25 Simmentals and a flock of 850 Blackface sheep to breed Highland Mules across 150 acres tenanted at Blackford, plus 85 acres in bye and 2000 acres hill rented seasonal at Clune, Tomatin. After dispersing her Charolais herd in 2016, she hopes to get back into the breed in the foreseeable future.

Her parents, Billy and Judy, have been huge influencers over the years and have always supported Anne on the family farm, based at Croy, Inverness.

Why are Simmentals and Charolais your chosen breeds?

It was my Dad that got us into the Simmentals commercially because they gave him everything he wanted in a good suckler cow. The pedigree side of things followed a couple of years after.

Apart from giving an easy fleshing, milky female the male calves give as good weight gains and grades as other breeds.

I went into Charolais – and will do again hopefully – because of showing. If you get a good Charolais turned out well, it will take a bit of beating in the ring.

Have you always been on the farm?

Yes, born at Blackford and still here! I went to university in Aberdeen and tried office jobs, but I quickly realised that was not for me, I missed the livestock too much, so came home again!

What got you involved in showing?

Being brought up on the family farm, my Dad was always involved with showing and he was a great encouragement to us. My sister, Fiona and I got calves to show when I was seven-years-old and it has all really just carried on from there.

When was your first RHS?

My first-time exhibiting was back in 1989 helping Doreen Campbell, Penick, with her Bleu du Maine sheep. We didn’t win much but it got me keen and hooked to the atmosphere around!

Seven years later, we decided to show our Blackford Simmentals at Ingliston. That first year we entered three animals and managed to be champion with our shared stock bull, Wellhouse Dictator, in 1996. We were also lucky enough to have two animals in the Simmental inter-breed team that took supreme that same year.

Which was best animal you’ve ever shown?

Our Simmental bull, Blackford Galaxy, would be a real hard one to beat, he took beef breeder champion and reserve breed champion in 2017 at the Royal Highland and he was champion Simmental in 2018 for his new owners.

For the best to show, I’d say my Charolais heifer, Blackford Flora. She managed to pick up a few champion of champions’ tickets in 2012. She didn’t need me on the halter, she just flicked the switch when she went into the ring and turned on the charm!

What is the best animal you have ever seen?

Kilkenny Celia ... she made me want Charolais! She was just an outstanding animal and really emphasised that ‘character’ quality. I have always wanted to breed something just like her … but I think I am dreaming!

Changes over the years?

The Simmental has gone through a few changes, getting bigger and heavier, some have gone for a more muscular type, but we have tried to stay with the more traditional, smooth fleshed kind.

Within farming, there are fewer small, family farms which is a shame, many are sadly now out of business and it has just become the bigger ones that are continuing.

Paperwork and regulations seem to be more and more important, which is very time consuming and leaves less time for the basics of farming, let alone any of the fun stuff that comes with farming!

The showing circuit is getting more professional and sadly fewer people are involved, but a nice change to the show rings is the introduction of young handlers’ classes. The number of entries, especially in the sheep section is great to see, I just hope the enthusiasm continues and the next generation thrive.

Abiding memories?

There would probably be two that stand out.

Without a doubt among the Simmentals it would have to be taking champion at Stirling Bull Sales with Bel Dhu Capercaillie in 2013, before he went on to break the breed record, selling for 45,000gns to the Corskie herd. My face was sore for days smiling so much.

The other would be being awarded the John Miller Trophy at the Royal Highland Show in 2005 for stockmanship – even to be considered for that award gave me a wee lump in my throat.

Biggest disappointment?

I don’t really do disappointments. We have won some things we probably should not have and maybe could have done better in other things, but that’s just showing! You shouldn’t enter if you can’t accept the judge’s opinion.

Most influential person in your career?

That would have to be Dad! The time and effort that he gave to my sister Fiona and I when we were young to teach and encourage us was immense and will never be forgotten.

My Mam has always been there for us too, chasing calves and keeping us supplied with white coats and ‘pieces’ at the shows. I learnt from both my parents that a team effort is a valuable thing and they have both influenced me not only in the show ring but in life.

As a breeder, stockman and out and out gentleman I must include Hugo Arnold, from Hockenhull. His knowledge of genetics, the quality of his stock and his quiet way of getting things done have always given me something to aspire to. His trust in me to show his cattle and to be part of the team who prepared his herd for dispersal meant an awful lot to me and will always live with me.

Unfortunately, since doing this article, Hugo Arnold, has sadly passed away, he will always be remembered fondly.

Favourite show?

The Highland is the big highlight of the year, but our two wee local shows, Nairn and Grantown are the ones I probably enjoy most just because they are so friendly and everybody just mucks in and helps each other, even if you are rivals in the ring.

Best stockman?

There are many people I have admired and tried to copy, too many to mention really, but for his kind and quiet ways I’d say Bert Rugg, for his ability to present a beast to perfection would be Dennis Gall, and for making the most of every second in the show ring it would be both Jimmy MacMillans, senior and junior.

Best advice received?

Bert Rugg’s most memorable bit of advice would be that you can grow and dress hair with little more than a good dandy brush!

Apart from Bert’s dandy brush, it would be Dad’s advice of ‘Do your homework... you can’t make a beast on the day of the show or sale’.

Biggest showing achievement?

One that I will always remember is taking champion at Stirling bull sales with Bel Dhu Capercaillie!

Among my Charolais, it was managing to produce two supreme champions at Stirling bull sales – in 2009 and 2016 – from a herd of just four cows.

Interests outwith farming?

In my spare time away from the farm, I also run a photography business catering for events – mainly weddings – as well as the occasional photoshoot on livestock, people and dogs!

My wee Beardie dog, Kyle, is never far from the camera and a great companion. As a bit of craft making, I handmake leather halters. It’s nice to see my handiwork adding the finishing touch to cattle in the show and sale rings!

Women in the showing circuit?

My parents brought us up to see no difference in work between men or woman, my Dad gave us every opportunity he would have given a son – and I am always thankful of that.

When it came to showing, at the start a small minority of people were a bit chauvinistic and it sometimes felt like you had to prove your ability and show your worth just because you were a girl. Occasionally, people would make passing comments, but we just had to put our heads down, and get on with it. The majority of stockmen were very supportive and showed us a lot of respect.

Nowadays, it is becoming the norm, everyone is treated the same and there are so many more woman in agriculture – which is great to see!

With livestock work, women maybe have a slight physical disadvantage, but there is always a way around it and you just have to use your head more!

If you are willing to try and have the ability to learn and challenge yourself, it doesn’t matter what gender you are.

Future of showing?

Despite my love for the circuit, with costs going up and the number of people involved going down, it bothers me that some of the smaller shows will begin to struggle. However, if we can keep the youngsters keen and involved, I hope they will continue to thrive.

The shows are where knowledge is passed on and where memories and friendships are made. Without those, there wouldn’t be much fun in the job.