We’re heading to the Borders this week for our Stockmen of our Time feature to meet well-known cattleman, Alistair Cormack, who has certainly made his mark in the showring over the years.


I was born in 1963 at Dundas Home Farm, in South Queensferry, where my father, George, was part of the Gammell and Cormack partnership working with the Ashley Aberdeen-Angus herd – this is where my career working with Aberdeen-Angus cattle began.

Showing has been bred into me and I have been in it all my days – I cannot remember a time where it hasn’t been a part of my life! At 14, I brought out my first champion – a bull called Jonsop of Eastfield – alongside my father in 1977 at the Royal Highland Show and he went on to win inter-breed the same year.

Whilst working with the Ashley herd, we would always spend time at one show or another.

I left school at 16 and worked with the Ashley herd until they dispersed in 1990. I then moved to Fife in 1991 and was there until 2015, where I spend my time building up the Carlhurlie Angus herd.

I experienced my first championship whilst there in 1991 at the Winter Fair, at Ingliston, with a Limousin cross steer called Chancer. I have always enjoyed showing fat stock alongside the pedigree’s. My boss at that time then sadly passed away and the herd was sold, so I became self-employed between 2015 and 2017.

I am currently working in the Borders and for the past two years have been managing the Meadowrig Limousin herd for Anthony Renton. It is certainly a new challenge and I’m looking forward to achieving great things. One of the few competitions to go ahead in 2020 was the Scottish Limousin Herd Competition and Meadowrig secured the title of best herd in Scotland.

What got you into showing livestock in the first place?

I was born into it and got involved right from an early age.

My first Royal Highland Show was in 1970 and I have loved attending shows ever since. I enjoy showing, but also the social side of it, where you meet many friends for a catch up – old and new. The parties you get involved in are also great and my wife, Doreen and I utilise the shows as our holidays each year.

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

Although I work with Limousins now, it’s hard to go past an Aberdeen-Angus that’s got a beautiful head and leg in each corner.

Limousins are great cattle to work with and the Meadowrig cattle have tremendous natures. They have fantastic conformation which keeps them at the top of the game.

I used to take part in a lot of prime stock shows over the years and most of the cattle I’ve worked with are real characters and the ones you get attached to the most.

First Royal Highland Show?

In 1970 with my father, who won the show that year. My first showing experience was leading a calf in the grand parade and I was hooked from there on.

Best animal that you’ve ever shown?

It’s hard to pick a favourite as all the championships are special in different ways but two stand out The first was the Angus heifer, Carlhurlie Queto, shown in 1999, which stood inter-breed champion as a yearling and was one of the youngest beasts to be inter-breed at the Highland.

Secondly, was Carlhurlie Darcie. Doreen and I bought her at the herd dispersal in 2016 and she went on to win the Angus championship at 13-months-old at the Highland Show. This was particularly special as it was a World Forum year for the breed that year.

Best animal that you’d ever seen?

There has been a lot of good animals within the pedigree game, but two that stick in my mind are both commercials.

Firstly, was The Bandit from Donald and Ewan MacPherson, followed by Dancing Queen, from Hugh and Lynne Dunlop – both are past Smithfield champions.

The Bandit was one of a kind. He was a game changer and was totally different to anything seen beforehand. Dancing Queen was one of the most perfect beasts I have ever seen. From character to conformation and style, she was a fantastic beast all round.

Abiding memory?

There has been a lot of good memories, but I think winning your first major show will always be at the forefront of your memories. Mine was at the Royal Highland Show, in 1977 with Jonsop of Eastfield.

Another fond memory was meeting my wife, Doreen, at Smithfield – can you believe that I had to travel all the way to London just to meet a wife!

Biggest disappointment?

It’s not healthy to dwell on disappointments but building up what you consider to be a great herd of cows and then seeing them being dispersed is particularly hard.

In my career, I have had to disperse two herds, both hard moments to experience. Another would be not winning the overall title at Smithfield as it’s the only major title I have never won and with the show now gone, it can ever be achieved.

Most influential person?

In my formative years I would say my father, George, as he encouraged me to follow my passion.

My wife, Doreen, has always been there for me, as well as giving me a good kick up the backside when I needed it! She was also very involved in the showing circuit – whether it be preparing cattle or in the ring herself – until she was diagnosed with MS in 2000, so has since taken a back-step.

My brother, Fraser, is another who has always supported me throughout the good and bad times.

Favourite show and why?

Two must be mentioned. Firstly, the one I miss most is the Royal Smithfield, at Earls Court, as it was always the show to be at and I loved the buzz you got when travelling down to London. Doreen and I used to organise lorries for taking cattle down and we travelled down with cattle for many years.

There was always a party at 1am when we arrived and that’s when party usually started in the lorry park – we partied every day until home time.

The second is the Royal Highland Show ... just for it’s great atmosphere.

Your choice of best stockman ever?

The great Dave Smith is one of the best I’ve ever known. Ewan MacPherson was another and nobody could touch him in his days working with fatstockers.

Another two fatstock men I did admire greatly were Jim Donald and Jim McKechnie, and finally, Iain Campbell is one of the top guys bringing out bulls and show cattle today.

All are exceptional at their game and are great showmen but also fantastic company outwith the ring.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice would be: 'Every day is a school day and you’re never too old to learn. You have to move with the times or you’ll be left standing still.'

Another piece of advice that I’ve always kept with me was told by Dave Smith, he said: “Your work is always done at home and it doesn’t just happen at the show.”

Biggest showing achievement?

I have brought out many champions over the years and have been very lucky, but one memory that sticks out was during Perth Bull Sales in 1989. The Ashley team secured the ‘Grand Slam’ that year including female champion, senior champion, intermediate champion, junior champion, supreme overall and reserve supreme overall with four different animals. This has never been done since, that I can recall.

I showed the male and female champions, while Doreen showed the junior and reserve supreme that day, and my father led the intermediate – it was certainly a family affair.

Best kist party you’ve been to?

Every kist party is a good one, but Smithfield was renowned for hosting some of the best kist parties around!

Another would be the Aberdeen-Angus kist parties, where we used to organise a BBQ on the Saturday night at the Highland in the cattle lines. Everyone helped, with Tom Rennie organising the music and Karen McLaren, from Netherton, singing a song or two – it was always a great night.

Any hobbies or interests outwith farming?

I enjoy spending time with my wife and two sons. Our eldest, Jamie, lives in Dubai so we don’t see him as often as we would like, however Scott lives in Fife and he just got engaged, so we have got a wedding to look forward to!

Future of the show circuit?

Hopefully a good one! Once things get going again the competition will be stronger than ever. Everybody had a champion last year that didn’t get shown and I just hope that the shows get going again.

You have to support both small and large shows to keep the industry at the forefront.