It is a hard-enough job trying to bring out show-winning commercial calves, but to breed them is a different game – one man who has had many successes with both over the years is John Smith-Jackson, of Hightown, Haltwhistle.

Born and raised on the family farm, Burnhouse, Coanwood, by his parents, Frances and Joe, and with brother Peter, they ran Swaledales, Bluefaced Leicesters, Galloway cows (put to a white Shorthorn to produce Blue-grey heifers), there was not much the family did not do!

When they bought a small farm next door, Shafthill, that is where the Bluefaced Leicesters prefix came from. The family moved up to Hightown in 1982, which gave them 450 acres between it and Lipwood Well, where they keep 80 Limousin cross British Blue suckler cows, 300 Swaledale ewes and 20 Bluefaced Leicesters.

John married Mandy in 1986, and they have two daughters, Sarah and Kate, and three grandchildren, Joe, Ted and Francesca. So, there is always a family hand available, along with his two part-time workers, Ben Moralee and Jacob Wilson.

If you could go into any breed, which would it be?

Dutch Texel and Beltex. The conformation and the shape of both breeds are very correct, they seem to be at the top of the modern-day needs now, but I am too old to start again now!

What got you involved in showing?

It started with Mule lambs in the early 1980s to try and promote our Bluefaced Leicester tups. In 1986, we showed our Leicester lambs for the first time and one came 20th out of 21 entries – but when I went to sell him at Hexham, he sold for the joint top price of £3800. Just a different man’s opinion!

At Hexham, in 1994, we sold a Limousin heifer to Diane Whitely and Jim Courts and were reserve champion at Smithfield with her. That is really what hooked me on selling show calves, it is great to see our calves go on and succeed for others – and we get to meet a lot of new people in the industry, meeting many good friends along the way.

The best animal you have ever shown?

One of my favourites was a British Blue commercial heifer calf, She’s a Diamond. She won Agri Expo and Smithfield, at Peterborough, in 2013, and the following spring went on to win the Leyburn calf sale before selling for £7300.

Among the sheep, the best Mule lamb I have ever shown was in 2017 by Midlock G6, which went on to win both Penrith and Alston shows.

The Scottish Farmer:

The favourite British Blue commercial heifer calf, She’s a Diamond, which won Agri Expo and Smithfield at Peterborough in 2013

The best animal you have ever seen?

Among the cattle, it would be the pure Limousin, Ginger Spice, from William Smith, in Ireland. She was one of a kind for her pure style, presence, and conformation.

There have been many commercials over the years, but the best steer I have ever seen would have to be Jaegerbomb, from Welsh breeder, Tec Jones. He won just about everywhere that year, however, at the Limousin congress show at Borderway mart, he was reserve champion to our Limousin cross heifer, Mystique. I think that was a bit of luck!

In the sheep job, it would have to be a ram from Robin Booth. The ram D15 had real style, power, correctness throughout and suited the modern day for his colour markings, which has become a bigger thing nowadays.

Changes over the years?

We must not forget that every animal must be able to walk around the fields and eat and drink, therefore they must have four good legs and a good mouth.

Personally, I love animals with style and a quality head, there was a late butcher that once told me a quality head meant a quality body.

Styles are always changing and we must be prepared to change with them.

I am a big believer at selling at live auction for getting a fair price, along with promoting our own stock. More people are beginning to sell deadweight, but if we didn’t have a live auction, I don’t know how we would manage a deadweight price structure.

Another huge change and a massive influencer has been social media. It is a great marketing tool, but personally I still like to see the animal in the flesh before buying it, these pictures only tell part of the story.

Among the showing circuit, it has become a lot more professional over the years and the presentation of the animals are on a new level. You can no longer take an animal out of a field ... it takes months of preparation.

Abiding memories?

My first national win was at the Countryside Live in 2007, when Mamma Mia took supreme. When you first do something you remember it better and that really was our first sense of achievement.

Another huge Scottish championship is when our calf, Mystique, won the Scottish Winter Fair for Jennifer Hyslop and Andrew Richardson.

One unforgettable moment was at the Great Yorkshire Show, three years ago, when there was a class of 11 British Blue cross steers, and I bred four out of the top five in the class – I don’t think that will be something I’ll ever do again!

Biggest disappointment?

Covid-19. It has impacted everyone and everything!

I do think it will take a hit on our commercial show calves next year and not being able to see how our calves thrived with their new owners this year has been a sheer disappointment. However, we have got to hope for positivity!

Most influential person in your career?

My wife, Mandy, she is always by my side offering a second opinion and great advice.

Favourite show?

The Great Yorkshire Show is a hard one to beat, there are great parties, a terrific atmosphere and many catch ups with old and new friends. It is always a bonus when we see our cattle go on to do well at it as well as having bagged the commercial championship on two occasions.

Best stockmen?

There are so many, but two that spring to mind are Jennifer Hyslop and Tec Jones. Jennifer is able to see an animal in its working clothes, spot the potential and dress it up to its perfection. Tec Jones is another master of the show ring – he shows his cattle flawlessly at the perfect pace and never has a hair out of place.

Best kist parties?

Back in the day at Smithfield.

The year the MacPhersons won the commercials was a hard year to beat. I remember Sarah Macpherson brought out boxes of Famous Grouse whisky, there was no choice, she said ‘that one of the conditions when marrying a MacPherson was to learn to drink whisky!’. It was some party and we even managed to catch our train home that night by the skin of our teeth!

You never know who you are going to meet at each party and that is the beauty of it! One night at the Yorkshire, David Cowie, from Aberdeen, was on a stag do and jumped in the same taxi with us.

We went for a ‘night cap’ with him, and I’d never seen him again ... until he was bidding against us for a £9000 tup at Hawes. However, he must have felt guilty as he bought our pen leader from us that year.

Any funny stories?

I once took a calf to an auction market show as a friend to keep my best one quiet and the ‘friend’ went on to be overall champion!

Interests out with farming?

Although the farm keeps me busy, there is nothing more important than spending quality time with my grandchildren as much as possible and watching them grow up!

I also enjoy watching the Premier league football and following Liverpool FC.

Best advice?

When you go to a show, be prepared to lose. You have got to be thick skinned, take criticism from fellow breeders, say nothing, and try to improve year on year.

We try to breed a good commercial out of every dam and if you get a prize winner it is a bonus, it is crucial you don’t get too obsessed with your own stock as that’s when mistakes are made, when you can’t see past your own.

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

Slow the passage of time. Roll the clock back to when I was 26 again and know what I know now.

Biggest showing achievement?

I breed show calves, I enjoy watching breeders buy them and go on to do well with them, I get a lot of pleasure out of it and I love following them about the country!

For myself, however, it has to be winning the last ever calf show at Hexham Market in 1994, doing the same the following year at the opening sale at the new market and securing the top place again this year, 25 years later!

Best investment?

The pure, Limousin bull, Shire Apollo – he was bred by the late Doug Edgar, and bred exceptional calves for us. We purchased him in 1986 and used him in our herd and took semen off of him, which we are still using today, he really is irreplaceable and was the foundation sire to a lot of our females.

The future of the showing circuit?

Once Covid-19 is under control, exhibitors will be as keen as ever to get back showing. There is no better place to promote your stock than at shows!