The man of the moment in this week’s ‘Stockmen of our Time’ is well respected Beltex breeder, Stuart Wood. He opened up with The SF about his journey into the pedigree sheep breeding world and his most memorable achievements.

What’s your background?

I was born in Preston, Lancashire, after my father moved down from Scotland with his father and brothers to farm. I lived there until I was 14, when my family decided to come back up north to farm a mixed beef, arable and sheep enterprise, located near Cruden Bay, in Aberdeenshire.

While at Ellon Academy, I managed to secure some work experience at Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ Thainstone mart as I had always wanted to work as an auctioneer. I was told that a job would be waiting for me when I left school and, sure enough, I started working as an apprentice auctioneer at the market, in 1992. This led to me becoming the youngest qualified auctioneer in Scotland, at only 17, when I got my certificate.

I remained at Thainstone for five years before leaving to work as an auctioneer at Longtown. However, in 1999, I got homesick and returned home, where, due to my interest in cars, I ended up working as a car salesman for Arnold Clark. After realising how much money could be made by simply speaking to people, I remained with the company for nine years.

I eventually realised that a shirt and tie attire seven days a week wasn’t for me and so I joined the Fire Service in 2008, where I have remained up to this day. I love it – it’s like having 30 brothers and a sister.

After working with Beltex and Beltex cross sheep, but farming them commercially, I then decided in 2006 to go MV-accredited and purchase some pedigree Beltex at the premier sale, in Carlisle. I purchased four foundation gimmers from John Barclay, Gavin Shanks, Alan Jackson and John Cowan, and went MV-Accredited in 2007, starting the Woodies flock.

I also privately purchased Beltex ewes a few years prior, from Johnnie Hunter, at Insch, and Gavin Shanks, which is when I believe my passion for breeding pedigree Beltex was instilled.

In 2012, whilst in Belgium looking to buy Beltex, I came across Blue Texels and decided these ticked all the boxes to start a second flock. However, after meeting Stasa and her daughter, Chloe, in 2013, she fell in love with the Blues and has since been the driving force behind our Saltire flock, which we run alongside the Beltex, Dutch Texels and Badgerface Texel flocks.

Our four-year-old son, Murray, is also a keen sheep enthusiast and is always eager to help when he can, before and after school.

I have to give credit to Stasa, however, for putting up with me and the hours I commit to working with the sheep as we have been able to grow our hobby into a farming business due to her understanding, determination and hands-on approach – which has also helped us to secure our first tenancy this year. Although, I do think my OCD over the little things drives her crazy!

What got you into showing?

I would have to say working at Thainstone instilled the showing bug, as well as taking part in YFC overwintering calf competitions and the Christmas Classic. I also really enjoy trimming sheep.

What qualities do you like about the breeds you work with?

Beltex, for me, tick all the boxes that the home and export market is looking for. They have a superior carcase, easily flesh, get premium grades and also a great killing out percentage due to a high meat to bone ratio. They cross extremely well with all commercial breeds, improving carcase quality across the board.

They are a breed that are easy to work with and can be sold at any time of the year and top the sale. The society and members are also very welcoming, helpful and friendly, which is one of the reasons I chose to start in pedigree Beltex.

Most of these aspects apply to the Dutch, Blue and Badgerface Texels and that’s why they suit us to a T.

First Royal Highland?

It would’ve been in 1992, when I went with school mates and got very drunk – as you do! I lived out the back of a livestock container for five nights and I have been at every show since. It wasn’t until 2009 that I first showed my Beltex at the Royal Highland.

Best animal you’ve shown?

I’ve been very lucky to have had quite a few over the years, however Woodies City Girl has to be the best. She was always a stunning girl from the day she was born and I was offered a lot of money to for her, but didn’t sell her.

Thankfully, I kept her as she won me my first Beltex overall championship at the Highland Show in 2018 and then went one better to win the sheep inter-breed –the first and only time that a Beltex has won the inter-breed at the Royal Highland, making it very memorable!

It was great day that I will never forget and it was great to share it with friends and family.

Best animal you’ve ever seen?

It would be in Belgium where I used to travel across to buy some Beltex and this one time I walked into a field where I was greeted by this monster of a Beltex ram, known as 1776, owned by Marc Messian.

He had everything – size, power, depth of muscle and correctness. He was just perfection. We tried our hardest to purchase him, but the owner wouldn’t part – however we have got semen off him and sons and his daughters are breeding well within the UK.

Changes good and bad?

A great change is seeing so many keen youngsters getting involved within the industry. It fills me with confidence that the farming and show circuit, and the Beltex breed especially, is in good hands. Also the number of women involved in agriculture is at an all time high and this is great to see.

A bad change is the expense in showing, such as entry fees, accommodation etc, and because of this, numbers are starting to decline at certain shows. I think it’s important costs are kept as low as possible to encourage people to support events.

Abiding memory?

Winning inter-breed at the Highland in 2018 with Woodies City Girl – I remember phoning my dad and crying! It was an emotional day.

Another was being asked to judge the Great Yorkshire Show in 2019 – that was an amazing experience. Also being elected onto the Beltex council was a very proud moment as I’m very passionate about the breed.

Biggest disappointment?

Losing nine of my show sheep to copper poisoning in 2014 was a huge blow. They made up my entire show team and I lost some special sheep that day.

Another would be that my dad never got to visit our new farm as we unfortunately lost him last year. He would’ve been so proud and excited for us.

Most influential person?

It has to be my dad for bringing me up the way that he did. He was hugely influential and was great with livestock and machinery. He could repair anything, make anything and turn his hand to anything – something I wish I had paid more attention to, because I can’t!

He gave me lots of advice over the years – and plenty swearings when I needed them. He taught me to have the attitude to work hard for what I wanted and value everything that I achieved. He was a great man and I miss him dearly.

Favourite show?

I do love the Highland as it’s so big and it’s our one holiday of the year where we can let our hair down and catch up with everyone. The kist parties are also great! For a show that is held over four days, there’s always something different each day, however I also enjoy my local show, Echt and the marquee at night.

Best stockman ever?

There are too many to mention that I look up to and admire, but there are two that have given me great advice and help over the years. The first being Bruce Mair – he’s a legend. His depth and knowledge of pedigree Beltex is phenomenal and he’s a great guy who has been successful in various breeds. He is also really switched on and will have everyone’s averages worked out before the market has!

Another man I really admire is John Hall, of Inglewood Edge. I first met him when I was an auctioneer at Longtown, where he sold fat lambs every Thursday. When I started in Beltex breeding, he was known as ‘Mr Beltex’ and would do inspections for the breed. His depth of knowledge and passion for the breed is insane and fantastic – I love nothing more than speaking to him at sales.

Best advice you’ve received?

My dad always said ‘you only get out what you put in’ and this is very true in the pedigree world. I spend so much time working with the sheep but I wouldn’t change it one bit. I also think it’s important to stick to the type you like and not follow trends.

Hobbies or interests?

Family time is very important to me, as in the farming world it can be very difficult to try and keep a happy balance. But whenever I can, I try to spend special time with Stasa, Chloe and Murray.

I also enjoy rugby, shooting and fishing but, unfortunately, I don’t get much time for these.

Best kist party?

The Highland’s Beltex kist parties are always a great night and can’t be beaten. There’s plenty of funny stories I could share – but they are not PC enough!

Future of showing?

For the younger generation, as long as young people get a start – which can be almost impossible – they will be able to build a future in most breeds, especially the Beltex. You don’t have to be a big name to get a good price within the Beltex world and you don’t need to outlay a lot of money to start in the breed – if you have good sheep you’ll get a good trade.

I’m hoping shows can get back to normal after Covid as it’s a great way for local communities to come together and allows us farmers to portray our industry to public in the best way possible.