By Kathryn Dick

The man of the moment this week is well-respected and all-round stockman, Robbie Wilson, who opens up about his fondest show memories and career highs with The Scottish Farmer.

What’s your background?

I grew up on the family farm at Bogs of Paithnick, Grange, in Keith, working with my late father, Jack, and late brother, Gordon, where we kept a mix of pedigree Suffolks, Texels and commercial cattle. I left home in 1981 when I was 17 to work as shepherd for the Mair family, at Muiresk, with their pedigree Suffolks. It was there that I gained an immense amount of knowledge about pedigree sheep breeding.

After 10 years with the Mairs, I branched out on my own in 1991, moving to North Dorlaithers and founding the Strathisla Suffolk flock, as well as keeping some cross-bred cattle for showing. In 1997, I started managing the Milnbank Texel flock for the late Margaret Lyon and I later purchased the entire flock in July, 2010. In 2013, I dispersed the Strathisla Suffolk flock, which grossed £266,000 – this decision was made to allow me to focus fully on Texels.

I am now farming just over 300 acres outside Turriff, running a flock of 50 pedigree Texel ewes and 500 cross ewes. I carry out an extensive ET program with Texels and aim to sell in excess of 100 gimmers and ram lambs each year. My daughter, Rachel, works in the oil industry but is extremely keen on the Texel flock in her spare time and makes a lot of effort promoting the flock on social media, which is very important these days.

What got you into showing livestock in the first place?

My father, Jack, was always showing livestock so it has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. We kept cross cattle for showing at the local summer shows and fat stock shows.

What qualities do you like about the breeds that you work with over others?

The Texel is just an all-round brilliant breed. Texel lambs top the prime stock sales for a good 40 weeks of the year and Texel ewes are topping them weekly all year round. I like that Texel cross lambs fatten on grass with ease.

From the pedigree side, there isn’t a bonnier ewe than a Texel that carries plenty of breed character and attitude. There is always a great buzz on the showing and sale circuits that just can’t be beaten.

What was your first Royal Highland Show?

The first Highland Show I can remember was in 1982 showing Suffolks with the Mairs. I started showing my own stock there in 1999 and have done so every year since. I have met so many forever friends from showing at the Highland over the years.

Which was the best animal that you’ve ever shown?

My Suffolk lamb, Strathisla Speed, was reserve champion at the Highland in 2007 and I later sold a half share privately to Muiresk. He was a big bright boy with super hair, power and carcase.

I went back to the Highland the following year with his first son, aptly named Strathisla Speedson and was overall champion. He then went on to be champion at the Suffolk breed sale in Edinburgh and sold for 25,000gns. Strathisla Speed had a huge influence on the Suffolk breed – I sold more than £50,000 worth of semen from him.

But what was the best animal that you’d ever seen?

I have a few to mention here but the first is an easy one, Sportsmans Double Diamond – which sold last week for 350,000gns. He was just perfection in every single way. Another animal that always stood out to me was Glenside Lulu, which won the Highland several times at a canter and she was a fantastic ewe.

Procters Cinderella is probably the best ewe lamb that I have ever seen. I placed her as the inter-breed sheep champion at the 100th Royal Welsh Show, last year – she was so correct.

Lastly, the MacPhersons’ bullock, The Bandit, which won both the Winter Fair and Smithfield in 1989, is another one that sticks in my mind. He was outstanding all round.

Changes over the years in the showing world – good and bad?

The showing circuit is getting more and more competitive every year and there is a lot more professionals in the job now, which is good for the shows but bad if you want to win!

Your most abiding memory?

Winning the Royal Highland Show, in 2017, with our Texel gimmer was a dream come true – it’s the big one to win and we celebrated with the kist party of all kist parties!

On the sale circuit it has to be selling my Suffolk ram lamb, Strathisla Dylan Thomas, for 48,000gns in 2008, and my Texel ram lamb, Milnbank Ur the Boy, for 40,000gns, in 2013.

Biggest disappointment in your career?

You get a disappointment every week when breeding sheep but the biggest one was losing one of the best gimmers that I have ever bred just a few weeks before the Highland last year – I didn’t feel good for a few days after that.

Most influential person in your career?

Both my father and brother were excellent stockmen who set me up in the right direction and it was a great loss losing my brother, Gordon, at the age of 42.

Kenny and Bruce Mair also had a big influence on my career – they were both very shrewd operators.

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

The Highland Show is the best show on earth for the quality of stock throughout every breed and the great kist parties. Our local town, Turriff, also has a brilliant show which is getting bigger and better every year.

Your choice of best stockman ever?

I can’t just pick one but the late Harry Emslie brought out his cross cattle to perfection every single time and he was brilliant at the job. I have a few fellow Texel breeders that I think are tremendous stockmen – John Forsyth, of Glenside, was unbeatable at the Highland for many years, you always knew he was going to be the one to beat before you’d even left home.

Sandy Lee of Fordafourie has been bringing out fantastic stock for years and even now in his 80s, he is still working away doing a great job.

Team Boden, of Sportsmans Texels, also deserve a mention as they are at the top of the game year in year out in cattle and sheep, which is extremely difficult to do but they can do it.

The younger generation coming through now also have some fantastic stockmen including Melvin Stuart, of Birness Suffolks, and my former ‘student’, Mark Priestley, is a capable boy who will go far.

Best and worse advice you’ve ever received?

Best advice is never ever listen to anyone who hasn’t beat you. The worst advice to receive is people trying to influence you on which stock ram to buy – always go with your own instincts and judgment.

Biggest showing achievement?

My first notable achievement was winning the cross cattle section at the Highland Show, in 1999, with Suzy Babe. I won five Highland championships with the Suffolks over the years, but again our proudest moment was winning the Texel section at the Highland, in 2017, with our gimmer which went on to sell for £20,000.

Any hobbies or interests outwith farming?

My life is just sheep, sheep and more sheep, but I do enjoy spending time with my grandson, Freddie.

What’s the future of the show circuit?

Hopefully, the shows will get back up and running next year and if they do I think they will be better than ever. The future of showing sheep is very bright and will only get stronger and stronger due to the huge interest of young people within the industry.