The well-respected Robert Grierson, former stockmen of the Chapelton herd, at Castle Douglas, takes to the stage to share his time in the trade.

It was by fate that brought Robert to the famous herds that grazed there when he was offered a job with James Biggar in 1975, after which he brought out the cattle there for 42 years.

In his time there, the Biggar family have had successful herds of Galloways, Beef Shorthorns, Angus and Herefords, which has in more recent times consolidated into Beef Shorthorn and Angus outfits, plus commercial cattle.

What is your background?

I was born in 1956 and my father was a shepherd at Auchenstroan and that inspired me to become involved in farming. I left school at 15 to then join my father at Glenmanna, where I started undertaking the cattle and tractor work.

I got married in 1975 to my wife, Dorans and was offered a full-time shepherding job at Glenmanna, but I knew I was more interested in the cattle side. So, I was very lucky to be in contact with James Biggar, who offered me a full-time job working with Beef Shorthorns.

At that time, I didn’t know much about the breed – some people would say I still don’t – but I love a challenge! I retired in 2018 and bought my house in Dalbeattie, where I am now self-employed and undertake any garden work, or maintenance work that comes my way.

What are your chosen breeds?

Perhaps they choose me ...

Beef Shorthorns are one of the oldest registered cattle breeds in the world, their nickname was ‘The Great Improver’ because they were shipped out to developing countries to improve their native cattle. They say there are more books written about Beef Shorthorns that there is on any other breed.

Shorthorns are docile and easy to work with and the females can be crossed with any terminal sires to breed a good commercial cow. When there was a premium for Shorthorn and Shorthorn cross steers, that meant the commercial market for bulls expanded.

In 1976, the Biggar family decided to start a herd of Herefords. We started off with a few, but soon grew to around 50 cows. A herd of Hereford cows in a field with their rich red bodies, white heads and socks is a real picture to look at. They were also quiet to work with, but could be a bit stubborn when being halter trained.

In the 1980s, I was also asked to bring out the Biggar family's Grange herd of Galloways for shows and sales. Galloway cattle are a good hardy hill breed and can live outside all year round on rough pasture. There hasn't been a great commercial market for Galloway bulls, however now that Aldi are going to sell Galloway beef in their Scottish stores over the Christmas period this aspect may improve.

What got you involved in showing?

It was all part of the job at the Grange and Chapelton, the two main units run by the Biggar family! You had to bring out the pedigree stock to advertise the herds well for the upcoming sales. My uncle and grandfather were both involved in showing Galloway cattle, so it has always been part of my blood.

Royal Highland Show experiences?

I first attended the show in 1976 to help with the Galloways, it was my first show experience of how you were expect to bring cattle out and show them to look their best. From then on, I took this experience on board and started showing Beef Shorthorns, Herefords and Galloways.

The best animal you have ever shown?

There is more than one.

Louada Sensation was a really special Hereford bull ... he will always be a real favourite.

The Beef Shorthorn bull, Tofts Romany, was another, We took him to the Highland and the Royal, and he won both. Amongst the females, it would have to be Chapelton Duchess, we showed her several times and won many championships, including reserve overall champion at the 2010 Beef Shorthorn World Congress Show.

From the Galloways, it would have to be the cow, Grange Elizabeth – she won many championships in her time and bred very well.

Best animal you have ever seen?

The Charolais cow, Kilkenny Celia. She was just a real picture and I think everyone recognised just how outstanding she was.

Among the Beef Shorthorns, it would have the bull, Balmyle Crackle, which won many championships in his day.

Blackcraig Kodiak will always come to mind when I think of Galloways – he was a great advert for the breed.

Changes over the years?

All breeds have modernised. It used to be small and short-legged animals that were top of the tree. however the quality and locomotion has vastly improved and breeders have got rid of the excess fat from cattle. As we only had native breeds, we knew we had to improve to compete with the continentals.

Back in the day, there used to be lots of workers on farms, however now there are very few workers, or stockmen, though some farmers get in self-employed stockmen to do additional work.

Among the showing circuit, the quality seems to improve every year. This year has been very different, though, but in a ‘normal’ year showing is a main event in the farming calendar – they are great for exhibiting the best of your stock and you meet up with and learn from a variety of people from across the country.

Things have vastly improved for attending shows from transport and even tyo the accommodation (for both cattle and stockmen!). Back in the day it was a row of small wooden huts for us …

Biggest showing achievements?

Over the years there have been many that I am very proud off. Going right back to 1988, when were overall beef inter-breed at the Royal Show and champion at the national poll show with Sensation was a real highlight.

We almost got the dream ticket at the Royal Show in 1991, when we exhibited three breeds – Beef Shorthorn, Galloway and Hereford – and took two champions and one reserve. It was a day worth celebrating.

In the sale ring getting 23,000gns in 2005 at Perth Bull Sales for the Angus bull, Chapelton Eventer – now that was a lifetime achievement. Five years later, I was awarded the herdsman trophy for bringing out Beef Shorthorn bulls, in which you had to win three consecutive years in order to take the trophy home. I was only the second stockman ever to do this, so it was great to be recognised.

In 2006, we had four cattle entries at the Royal Show in the Shorthorn section, all were first in their class as well as picking up senior, junior and reserve male champions, junior and reserve junior female champions, reserve overall female champion, best pair and best group of three.

Chapelton Toronto went on to become supreme champion and the next day he was reserve beef inter-breed – it was a good party in the Shorthorn pavilion that night.

Biggest disappointment?

Losing everything to foot-and-mouth.

Gathering cattle inside at night and going out the next morning it was like a ghost town. The sheds were empty.

The late James Biggar said to me: “Well Robert, we will just need to start again ...”. From a man that was almost 90, I thought if he could say that during that troubled time, then I better get on with it!

From the middle of March to August I spent cleaning and pressure washing sheds to get our hi-health status back. We then imported 200 embryos from Canada, so we had to look for a lot of commercial heifers to implant them.

We were never going to get our Galloway numbers back up, so we began an Aberdeen-Angus herd to help boost our numbers.

We were back in full swing in 2003 and we took Beef Shorthorn champion with Tofts Rigger at Perth Bull Sales.

Most influential person?

My late employer, James Biggar. His experience of breeding cattle was second to none – you could learn a lot from him and I did.

My family have also brought me to where I am today, including my late wife. If I hadn’t got so much encouragement from her I wouldn’t have had the success I have had. It takes a lot of time and effort to bring out pedigree cattle.

Best stockmen?

There are many on my list and that I have learnt so much from along the way.

Dave Smith is one I couldn’t go past, he was just an expert in the trade.

Jim Donald, Steve Edwards, Robbie Minty and Jim Ross are a few that must also be mentioned and have influenced my career.

Bringing out a number of different breeds is a great achievement and doing it exceptionally well are Richard and Carol Rettie. One I could not forget about is Jack Ramsay, who was not only a very good stockman he was also a tremendous judge of cattle.

Abiding memories?

At my farewell BBQ at the Grange, Jimmy Warnock from the RHAS presented me with my long service medal. It was a real honour to be recognised by the industry.

The last Highland Show I attended in 2018, I was presented with the very kind gift of a plaque from and signed by a variety of stockmen and breeders, along with an envelope of donations on my retirement – which was well spent on a new garden shed for my new home. I can’t thank everyone enough for their kind generosity.

Best advice?

Keep your eyes and ears open and watch what everyone else is doing, watch the people who are successful and learn from them.

If you are going to be showing cattle you have to pick your show team in plenty of time and at shows always keep your cattle and stalls tidy, as well as yourself! Always wear a tie in the show and sale rings. If you win be humble, if you lose be gracious and always go and congratulate the person that has won.

The future of the showing circuit?

This year hasn’t been a good one, but hopefully the shows can pull through and survive this and get back to it. It doesn’t matter what you are showing it is a great shop window and the people that you meet, make the shows all really worthwhile. Never forget that exhibiting at local shows is just as important as major shows.