After having a long and successful career as a respected stockman, from showing cattle to judging them at prestigious shows, Dave Murray is still going strong in the show circuit.

He shared his most memorable career highlights with The Scottish Farmer.

What’s Your background?

I was brought up on the family farm of Pressock, seven miles from Forfar. My first memories are always helping with the cattle, especially when the cows were calving. My dad, Fred, ran about 70 commercial cows on which he used Aberdeen-Angus bulls.

The best ones I remember as a boy were two, from Cullisse and one from Fordhouse. We used to show suckled calves at Kirriemuir calf sale in September and my dad’s ambition was always to do well with the pens of four, as some years there would be 15 pens!

My mum, Jean, was also keen on the cattle and would take me to Perth, in February, on the Sunday to see the bulls. The first time I went was in 1962 when I was eight and I was hooked! The whole experience just left me wanting more.

What got you into showing livestock?

This is the tale of three Berts! A family friend, Bert Thomson, asked if I would like to assist him at Kirriemuir Show in 1965 when I was 12 and it poured with rain all day, but it never dampened my enthusiasm.

Next was Bert Rugg, who kindly offered me a job at Lownie, in 1968, when I was desperate to learn about pedigree cattle. My job was to help with the cows and in my charge was a cow I had watched winning the Highland Show in 1964 – Evaka of Wych Cross. Also, the bulls for Perth were fed and exercised to a strict regime, which was good for giving me a bit of discipline – I don’t know where it’s gone!

The third ‘Bert’ was lifelong friend, Bert Taylor – we met at Perth Bull Sales as young lads. One night, we went to the pictures and promptly fell asleep.

After a year at Lownie, I went home to the family farm and I sold my first Angus bull at Perth, in 1970. My best purchase was in 1978, when I bought Proud Ingloria of Westdrums, at Perth and I won a few prizes with her at the summer shows, including reserve champion at Fettercairn, to Charlie Ross with Thornton Pavlova, fresh from a Royal Show win.

It was a strong show that year of 25 Angus, including four senior bulls. Her first calf won me a third prize at Perth in 1981 – my first prize ticket there and sold for 1400gns – my first four-figure price. Two years later, her grandson sold for 2800gns to Ian Anderson, for the Newark herd.

By this time, my Charolais adventure had begun and in 1986 I sold my first at Perth for 4000gns. In 1989, we moved to Wolflaw, where we still are today.

With the Angus herd growing steadily in 2016, I decided after 33 years to disperse the Charolais. I was so pleased that Dave Thornley and Mornity Farms have done so well with sons out of the females they bought. Dave’s bull, which was inside a cow, was male champion at the National Show at the Great Yorkshire and champion at Welshpool.

Last year, I decided to reduce the Angus herd and sold 20 cows and calves to Lindertis Farms to help build up the herd there. The autumn portion of the cows and calves I sold in Stirling where I was delighted to sell an Edwina cow and calf to Newhouse of Glamis, the first Edwina on Newhouse for nearly 40 years.

What qualities do you like about your breeds?

I have worked with Angus all my life and the breed certainly went through a tough time in the 1970s and ‘80s, but thanks to top breeders like John Graham, Neil Massie, Bob Crockatt, and Willie McLaren, who went to Canada and improved the commercial side of the breed, we are now producing the cattle that beef buyers want.

When I was young, the liveweight of a fat A-A heifer was 350kg. Now, the deadweight is 350-400kg! What a transformation and they are still easy to keep, flesh easily, quiet to work with, and the calves are so lively.

The Charolais is the ultimate beef machine with unparalleled weight gain and conformation.

First Royal Highland?

My dad took my brothers and I, on the train in 1964. As they toured the show I sat and watched the Angus being judged with the aforementioned cow winning the championship.

Best animal ever shown?

I have two. Firstly, the Charolais bull, Guthrie Dazzler, which was champion at two summer shows and first at Perth in October, 1989, and sold for 13,000gns. He was reserve champion at the Highland Show for Danny Sawrij in 1992.

The other was Guthrie Pamela, which was reserve champion at the Highland in 2002 and inter-breed at Kirriemuir the same year, with my daughter Angela on the halter. These were the only two shows Guthrie Pamela was ever at because in 2001 there were no shows and unfortunately she hurt her back and her show career was over.

Best animal ever seen?

Two Angus females I have to mention are Newhouse Edwina 112, shown by Dave Smith, which was inter-breed at the Highland – her breeding is still coming through today. The other is Pavlova of Thornton, a lovely cow that won the Royal Show for Nigel Thornton-Kemsley and her breeding is still doing well at Cardona.

Kilkenny Celia, a Charolais from Peter Donger, is possibly the best and I was fortunate to have judged her twice at the Great Yorkshire and Royal Welsh, winning both times.

I also remember a Shorthorn bull from Perth sales, in 1965 and I never saw him out of his stall but he was so impressive. He was Denend Ragusa, the champion which sold for 10,000gns.

Abiding memory?

I have been lucky to have judged at lots of shows all over the UK, but the real stand-out has to be judging 400 Charolais at Perth, in October, 1992. The show started at 8.00am and I finished at 2.30pm!

Another show trip, in 1991, proved eventful where I was to judge the Charolais at the Royal Welsh and my good friend, Tom Adam, was judging the Angus. We left Tom with his wife Margo and a young East German lady called Anna – who was touring Britain looking to learn our ways. She had come to Scotland and Tom was asked if he could deliver her back to the Royal Welsh.

Well, we certainly didn’t take a direct route and once we eventually reached the show, she got out of the car and said: “Four people in a car and not a map between them,” pointing at Tom and I, adding: “I thought judges were serious people, until I met these two!”

I had a fantastic show of Charolais at the Royal Welsh, especially the females, including Kilkenny Celia, Picton Umbel, Lappingford Tulip, and Maerdy Empress.

Biggest disappointment?

The closing of Perth market after 146 years of the bull sales was a sad day. On a personal note, not being able to get Guthrie Pamela to her full potential.

Most influential person?

I would say Dave Smith. Going to West Drums in the 1970s and watching the detail he put into his cattle was an education. The mash he made for the bulls had the most beautiful smell, which I have never forgotten!

Favourite show?

The Highland for drama and drams! It’s so great to see a fabulous show of stock and meet so many friends, old and new. I have to mention my local show, Kirriemuir, too – a very friendly and competitive show full of great fun!

Best stockman ever?

There are so many and I am happy to say I have been friends with most of them. The best had to be Dave Smith. He has been mentioned a lot in this series in The SF and no wonder. He was so gifted and produced the goods at so many different homes and breeds.

Another who has produced more Perth and Stirling champions and top prices than anyone I know is young Iain Campbell. He’s always at the business end of the job bringing out strings of top bulls and he was a teenager when he started producing the goods at Blelack, and has continued at Gordon.

Best and worse advice?

The best advice was from Alister Smith, at Carlisle. I was trying to buy a bull without success and Alister said he’d seen a decent bull withdrawn. I went and looked at the bull and bought him – he was Tew Illustrious. He went on to win six shows and three inter-breeds for me and I sold him for double what I had paid for him! I think I am still due Alister a bottle of whisky!

The worst advice was to buy Suffolk gimmers. Me and sheep are not compatible – I get a sore back just looking at them!

Best showing achievement?

In February, 1996, my son Neil had his first bull at age 18 and he had decided to go for a trip to Australia, so I was left to look after Forfar Jurassic. I got reserve senior champion and he sold for 9000gns. It was a shame he wasn’t there to see it.

Best kist party?

At the Highland in 1985, Ian Roberts was followed all week by Claire Powell and Landward’s TV crew. After the showing, we all went to Stewart Brown’s John Deere stand and – although not strictly a kist party – it was a fabulous night. Ian and Anne Roberts, Ian and Madge Anderson, Jack Ramsay, Norman Taylor, Jimmy Martin, myself and many more with us all ending up being on the telly!

Another was at Stirling, when Sandy Beaton appeared at a bull sale for the first time in 15 years. Jock Campbell and I took him to the kist for a dram and word got round the mart that Sandy was ‘in town’. Every Charolais breeder and stockman seemed to appear to see him – what a great couple of hours we had!

Interests outwith farming?

My biggest interest in life is my family. My wife, Pam, has been fantastic, putting up with me for nearly 46 years and we have four great children who make me so proud – Steve, Neil, Craig, and Angela. All have done so well in their chosen careers and of course our seven grandchildren are adorable.

I also do a wee bit of rough shooting to get a few pheasants for the pot!

I have been a Hibs supporter for 60 years after seeing them play at Arbroath. Joe Baker was the young rising star then and he actually played for England against Scotland while with Hibs. Nowadays, he would have played for Scotland as his father was in the forces and was based in England when he was born.

The cup final in 2016 was a magical day for all Hibs fans as it was 114 years since we had won the cup!

Future of showing?

I always try to be optimistic and I am sure with the determination and ability of our young stockmen and women, our shows will rise again. I am looking forward to seeing everyone again in the near future, Covid permitting.