Attaining lifetime achievements in both the show and sale rings in one breed is difficult enough, never mind bringing out several breeds of cattle and sheep, but one who thrives on the challenge is Robert Marshall, stockman at Harestone, Insch.

After leaving school at a young age and working at different local farms in New Galloway and Kirkcudbright to gain experience, he landed on his feet with a full-time job with James K Goldie, Townfoot, in 1987, working with pedigree Charolais and Limousin cattle as well as Blue du Maine and Rouge sheep – where the interest of showing livestock really began for Robert.

“Working with Jim gave me a great schooling into the pedigree world of both sheep and cattle and I learnt a lot – and I mean a lot! Whilst working there I was working under Roy Crockett, who was a great help and showed a real dedication to detail and that hard work pays off,” added Robert.

Two years later, Robert went to work with WC Shedden, at Kirkpatrick Durham, which is where he married his wife, Val. Soon after, they had two children, Ashley (26) and Wullie, who sadly passed away two years ago at the age of 26.

In 1995 saw the move to Garchew, Newton Stewart, to help John Scott with his Blackie herd, and 10 years later Robert was on the move again and landed at Glenrinnes Farms, Dufftown, in August, 2005.

Robert soon landed the top pedigree job at Potts of Rayne, Inverurie, for the Barclay family in December 2017. The enterprise now comprises 100 Charolais cows, 25 Limousins, five Aberdeen-Angus along with 150 Blackface ewes, and has been a rewarding challenge for him.

It hasn’t been an easy ride for Robert and his family, having lost his father, Wullie at the age of 10, it was down to his mother Agnes, to rear the three children, Eric, Robert and Anne.

“It would not have been an easy task for my mother, but I will always be grateful of what she managed and she has been a great support our whole life,” said Robert.

What’s your favourite breed?

I would work with any breed if it is good enough. I have no set breed that I prefer to cater for.

Amongst cattle, I am looking for a big powerful animal with a lot of flash, whilst in the sheep I want a fairly compact type with a big top, good spring of rib and good legs along with a real sharpness about them.

Your Royal Highland Show experiences?

I have attended the Royal Highland Show from a young age, watching the top stockmen and admiring what they did. That made me keen to show one day.

It wasn’t until 2008 that I took it upon myself to show sheep, I had previously brought out for others, but that was the first on my own.

That year, I was male champion in the Blackface sheep section with a three-shear £2400 Milnmark. This tup also made the winning inter-breed pair the same year – I could do with a tup like him today!

He was a great hardy sheep and bred to type – we used him for five years and used a lot of sons off of him. He is the only tup I have used as much and his females were tremendous.

Best animal that you’ve shown?

Harestone Natalie – she took the Charolais junior championship and overall junior inter-breed last year at the Royal Highland. She oozed quality and marched out in the show ring saying ‘look at me’… she really was a pleasure to show.

The Scottish Farmer:

Harestone Natalie took Charolais junior champion and overall junior inter-breed at last year's Royal Highland Show

And the best animal you’ve ever seen?

It would have to be the Galloway bull, Blackcraig Kodiak, for his pure power and shape. He was very correct and had a great head on him being full of character. He was a modern Galloway bull at the time and could have passed as an Aberdeen-Angus. I haven’t seen another bull like him for shear quality.

The best Blackface sheep I have ever seen was the £40,000 Dalchirla shearling which sold to Connachan and Troloss, he had the best hard head and was full of expression.

Abiding memories?

I have lots from my showing achievements over the years.

Last year, topped it by taking junior inter-breed champion at the Highland with Natalie. Previous to that, I led the reserve inter-breed champion in 2018 with Harestone Jacquard and Beef Shorthorn champion in 2016 with the five-year-old bull, Chapelton Ensign, which was purchased as a 10-month-old calf.

In 2015, I made a first trip down to the Great Yorkshire Show with my own Aberdeen-Angus cow and calf which resulted in a championship ticket with her – Belhaven Zephyr.

At the Scottish championships at Keith Show, in 2012, we also picked up best native animal with an Aberdeen-Angus cow and calf, shown by my daughter, Ashley and my late son, Wullie.

In the sale ring, it would be selling Harestone Monarch for 18,000gns to Hugo Retailleau, in Western France, at Stirling Bull Sales in February, 2018. That day we sold the nine bulls we had entered to balance out at £9500.

On the flip side, it was spending the money on the five-year-old Galloway cow, Penninghame Susan, at a breed record of 8500gns in 2015, and owning a half share along with John and Ann Finlay, of Blackcraig.

Must also mention the Blackface trade we received at Lanark last year – selling to a top of 12,000gns for a shearling and averaging £5425.00 for four. That just proves that the show circuit does work hand in hand with the sale ring!

Biggest disappointments?


Most influential people?

John and Ann Finlay, at Blackcraig. They are lifelong friends and have helped me through good and bad times over the years.

Your favourite show?

Without a doubt it has got to be the Royal Highland. There is a buzz getting ready to go, never mind when you are there. You are showing against the best livestock in the UK by far, so it is a great competition to be part of.

Best stockmen and shepherds about?

In the cattle world it has got to be Dennis Gall and Wilson Peters – both are tremendous showmen and stockmen that bring their livestock out to perfection time and time again. They know everything about the industry they are in.

Allan Wight jnr, of Midlock, is another I admire for the number of breeds he does to perfection – he is consistent and is there every time, no matter which breed he’s showing.

The best kist parties?

They are all good – some more lethal than others!

One that everyone should try is the Galloway bar at the Great Yorkshire Show – it is an experience to be hold that’s for sure and I say that coming from a first-hand experience. The buzz in there is unreal it is like a garden shed and you are packed in like a tin of beans and the craic is just tremendous.

Interests outwith farming?

I like eating out. The Champany Inn, at Linlithgow, is tremendous for a T-bone steak. I also used to do a bit of dog trialling in my day, but I don’t get much time now a days.

Best advice received?

Bring out stock to your best of ability and learn to be a good loser.

Best investment?

Belhaven Zephyr was an Angus cow I purchased for 2400gns in Stirling from the late John Gilmour, and I sold her first calf to Stephanie Dick, Ronick. When I dispersed my Angus herd, I sold Zephyr for 8300gns with a pair of twin heifers at foot which sold for 3400gns and 3200gns. She really flourished, selling four calves out of her in just three years at good money.

Changes over the years?

Among all cattle breeds, people have started to look for an easier fleshed type with more shape, however you need to be careful on this as there is a thin line in too much shape. Too much shape in females reduces milk, makes them harder to calf – we need to keep the females right to produce a calf every year.

There is a lot more paperwork involved in farming than there used to be and that is becoming a job in itself.

There are fewer youngsters wanting to come into the industry, which means people are putting a lot more cows and sheep away – we have got to continue to feed the nation and there is nobody better at producing meat than farmers in the UK with excellent health standards, so it is important we continue to encourage people into the industry.

I wouldn’t change what I do for the world, I look forward to bringing in a new generation into the world and preparing cattle or sheep for shows or sales.

The future of showing?

It is uncertain as to what the future holds. I fear the smaller shows may never return due to Covid-19 – some rely on their returns year on year to stay afloat and obviously they have not got any income this year.

I do hope with all my heart that the public can keep them going along with the Royal Highland. There is so much potential from going to a show that it is too much to lose.

Showing is becoming more professional, with livestock being fed a lot harder and the way the animals are brought out, there is a real talent involved. That makes it harder for newbies coming into the industry. Never mind the cost and time that is involved.

However, shows have to be part of the farming industry. They help promote our stock and they are the biggest shop window we have. Promotion helps to sell stock throughout the year.

Between shows and sales, you always need a lot of helpers which becomes challenging when there are fewer farm workers around. However, my family has been a huge help over the years and I wouldn’t have a achieved what I have done without them.