You would not need to be discussing show calves and winter shows for very long before the name Donald MacPherson – based at Castlehills Farm, Berwick upon Tweed – came up in conversation.

Now running 15 pedigree Texel ewes, 19 pure Aberdeen-Angus, just one show beast and a few commercial calves for further showing alongside his diversification venture, ‘Well Hung and Tender’, there is not much Donald doesn’t do!

After studying agriculture at college, it wasn’t long before Donald realised he was coming home to work and farmed for five years in partnership with his father, Ewen, in Appin.

However, Donald and his wife, Sarah, moved down to Berwick on Tweed in 1989, when they got the chance to rent a farm. Back then, the farm was home to 150 suckler cows which were bulled to Charolais and Limousin bulls with the idea being to breed their own show calves, which caused a lot of heartache and a lot of dead calves! Alongside the cattle, they also ran 600 breeding ewes and grew 350 acres of wheat and barley.

Then came foot-and-mouth year in 2001, which knocked all farmers for six and certainly made Donald and his family sit up and think after the fear of losing their stock and farm.

The team knew they had all their eggs in the one basket and knew they had to diversify. That set the ball rolling for the new business venture, ‘Well Hung and Tender’ which started by going to farmers markets to sell its own beef and that led to event catering. This year has, of course, been an exception, with Covid-19 curtailing a huge amount of their trade.

The year 2005, saw them downsize the farming business by purchasing the 66-acre Castlehills.

Although most of their summer showing has come to an end, Donald does still exhibit at some of the winter shows with his commercial cattle.

And, the Hexel Texel flock is flushed to concentrate on the top end of genetics.


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What is your chosen breed?

Show calves are my pride and joy.

If you can get a good Charolais, it is hard to beat in the show ring. To me it is all about the style and presence, as well as the carcase for a show animal!

More recently, we have been focusing more on our Texels, as they bring more income to us and are a great asset to our business. There is no profit in show calves, but we do it purely for the enjoyment.


What got you involved in showing to start with?

I can never remember not showing, it has always been in the blood!

I remember in my school days going to Lorn Show – where my dad would show the Blackface sheep, whilst Donnie McCormick would show the Aberdeen-Angus cross calves, and old Ronald MacAlister would show the Ayrshire cattle, and I would help.

We started showing at the Winter Fair in 1978 with home bred Charolais cross Blue-grey bullocks. However, our first real taste of success wasn’t until 1988 with the Limousin cross heifer, Ginger Snap – bred by Pat Boyd, from Tiree. Ginger Snap was reserve overall champion at the Winter Fair and a red ticket at Smithfield, for our first year showing in London.


Royal Highland Show experiences?

We have had many of them and three championships! Queen Anne was a real good heifer, bred by Fred Murray, winning the commercials then getting reserve overall beef animal that year. I think that James Forsyth is the only person to have won the beef supreme with a cross-bred.

However, it all came to a halt eight years ago, from showing both sheep and cattle, and judging the reasons for the Young Farmers, to allow us to concentrate more on the catering business.

Stopping showing was not an easy decision to make but we had to, to enable us to do the catering job right. With the catering business a huge part of our lives, we really only take on the winter shows.

Since my father passed away, John Currie, from Southhook, and I show together, so we can share the losses!

The Scottish Farmer:

John Currie and Donald winning the winter fair with Price tag!


What was the best animal you’ve ever shown?

Without a doubt it has got to be the Limousin cross bullock, The Bandit. He was our first win at both the Winter Fair and Smithfield in 1989. He was bred by James McKay, from Caithness, and was a bit ahead of his time, but he would be lost now – there is a lot more muscle in the calves nowadays.

We sold him at Smithfield for £12,000 to Archie Jess the butcher. You don’t see that kind of money for a show calf now!

Archie’s wife proudly told her hairdresser that Archie had just bought the supreme champion at Crufts!


But what was the best animal you’ve ever seen?

There were two Charolais cows that stood out a mile to me, being tremendous with both style and presence – Kilkenny Celia and Mowbraypark Gigi.

In the cross cattle, the Agri Expo winner in 2018, Strawberry Blonde, from Gareth Small, was outstanding – you could judge her with your eyes shut, she was just picture perfect.


Changes over the years?

Among the cross cattle anyway, I would say they have got much better, there is much more meat on them than there used to be.

However, I do worry about not getting enough finish at the lower weights. But, no one can afford a big steak!

All the big cattle are perhaps getting too much hard muscle. If we are going to get them in spec’ and well finished, then maybe we need softer, fleshier breeding.


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Abiding memory?

In 2016, at the Welsh Winter Fair, we built a platform with bales at 2am in the morning in the cattle shed and 30 Welsh exhibitors stood in a choir led by Robbie Roberts and sang ‘ Land of my Fathers’ the Welsh national anthem.

It was incredible. I even have it on video to show how outstanding it was … I still get goosebumps watching it back, it is amazing what drink can do!


Biggest disappointment

Back when we were still farming in Appin in 1986, we had the birth of my December-born Charolais cross bull calf, it was out of our show cow and would of been bang on for the Winter Fair the following year.

He was basically halter trained from birth, combed, and washed, he really was my pride and joy. However, one day I let them out to the hill park for the day and he had fallen into the river and drowned! The lesson I learnt was not to get too attached!

Another disappointment is definitely missing out on all the craic at the Royal Highland Show, because of work commitments.


Most influential person?

My dad, Ewen, he had a passion for showing and people!


Your choice of best stockman/shepherd ever?

The late great Willie Porteous, from Castle Douglas, and my dad, they were quite a team!

It would also have to be my biggest competitors that are always hard to beat in the show ring – Hugh Dunlop, Charlie McLean, Jimmy Martin’s crew, the Allanfauld team – all are exceptional at bringing out their own stock to perfection.


Who has got the best kist parties?

There has been many of them over the years! Every kist party in London at Smithfield was legendary. We can’t re-create it, it was just magical times down there.

However, a laugh that will never be forgotten was Dougie McBeath regaling us at an after-party sesh with his tale of his own conception! Our American visitors had tears streaming down their cheeks with laughter, then Monty added “ That was awesome Dooogie, but I didn’t understand one word of it”


Best advice?

16 drops won’t do you any harm…


Biggest showing achievement?

Winning the Winter Fair in 2016 alongside my old pal, John Currie, with our Limousin cross heifer, Pricetag. She was a real credit to her breeders, Keith and Steven Williamson.


Best investment?

The Charolais bull, Simpsons Greg, which we purchased for 13,000gns and shared with Archie and Duncan Macgregor. He sired the only home-bred champion, Donald Bhan, that we have ever produced, at Smithfield, in 1995.


The future of the showing circuit?

Secure. There are so many eager, talented and keen youngsters on the scene now which is really encouraging for the future of the industry.