A man with a career expanding over decades, well-respected stockman, Jimmy Sinclair, opened up about his illustrious career to Kathryn Dick.


I was born and brought up on my grandfathers croft, at Brig o’ Turk based in the Trossachs. My father worked as a shepherd for the Cameron family at Glen Finglas, so I grew up amongst Blackface sheep.

I started school in Lochearnhead and always remained in that area growing up. After leaving home, my first job was working with the McNaughton family at Inverlochlarig, which was a great grounding experience for me.

After moving around the area a few times to allow my father to work at various farms, I eventually landed myself a new job at Cromlix, in 1971, before moving to Overshiels in the Borders, in 1983, to work as shepherd.

We were then offered the opportunity by Lord Borthwick to take on the tenancy at Crookston, in October 2000. My family and I have resided there ever since and I now work alongside my son, Graeme, who is the driving force on the farm nowadays. Moving to Crookston was a big game changer and has proved to be a different ball game for us altogether, but an enjoyable challenge.

What got you into showing livestock in the first place?

Whilst working for the McNaughton’s, I was given the opportunity to begin showing sheep at the local Killin Show. I was encouraged, shown what to do and my interests in showing have just snowballed from there.

Whether I came away with a rosette or not, I very much enjoy taking part and the shows are a great social occasion – but if you’re winning it makes it even more enjoyable.

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

I grew up with Blackface sheep so they are a breed that remains close to my heart. They are hardy sheep, even though the breed type has changed over the years - not always for the better - but the Blackie is still a good ewe and it’s wonderful what she can produce on not a great deal.

When we moved to Crookston we had to change our mindset entirely from working Blackface sheep. Our main aim now here is producing and selling prime lambs. We do still have Blackface ewes and Leicesters for breeding Mules, as well as Texel and Beltex.

The Scotch Mule is a remarkable ewe – she’s hardy, also very prolific and when you cross her to the Texel and then the Texel Mule onto the Beltex, you produce top quality lambs for today’s market.

What was your first Royal Highland Show?

My first time attending the show as a spectator was in 1971, but since then I missed very few shows. My first time showing Blackface sheep was in 1979 – I enjoyed it but it was a miserable few days if you didn’t get a ticket, however, the social side took your mind off it.

Best animal that you’ve ever shown?

There have been a few that come to mind but one I would mention was a Blackie at Cromlix known as Hot Gossip. She stood reserve overall Blackie at the Royal Highland Show, in 1981, as a gimmer.

Another would be a Hollylee-bred tup called Tonky, which stood male champion and reserve overall at the Highland, in 1992.

But what was the best animal that you’d ever seen?

This is a difficult question as there have been so many spectacular animals in my time. In the cattle, I would have to say the Charolais cow, Kilkenny Celia. She was a standout beast and was shown to absolute perfection.

Amongst the sheep, I have always had a soft spot for Stuart Wood’s Beltex, Woodies City Girl, which I placed as overall champion at the Royal Highland Show, in 2018. She oozed breed character and was an eye-catching sheep – she just knew she was a champion.

Changes over the years in the showing world – good and bad?

The showing circuit is getting harder and entry numbers have certainly been decreasing over the years due to the fact that people don’t have the time to prepare stock, however the competition is still fierce.

There was a time where you could just take an animal out of the field and head straight to the show but there’s no way you could do that nowadays. There is so much time and preparation that goes into getting stock ring ready, as well as there being huge competition out there.

Even during the busy times of the year, like lambing and calving, the preparation of these show animals still has to be on your mind months in advance.

You’re most abiding memory?

I would say being asked to judge the overall sheep class at the Royal Highland Show, in 2018 - it was a great honour. I spent a very social day with the late John Hamilton and it’s one that will stick in my mind.

Biggest disappointment?

If you work with livestock, disappointments are frequent. Just like the bad weather, once you get a few sunny days you forget about the snow and the rain. You have to just move on and try harder – as long as the family is well that’s the main thing.

Most influential person in your career?

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with many top class men, even growing up. I could fill your page with names of people right up to present day, however I would have to say wife, Christine, has been my rock and has listened to me groan over the years!

I would also mention my late mother, Annie, for all her love and encouragement.

Favourite show over the years and why?

I’ve been lucky to judge huge amounts of shows, with my first being Kirkintilloch. I enjoy both big and small shows but the Highland is a stand out event, alongside the Great Yorkshire Show.

I do have a love for the smaller shows, especially Gargunnock, Dalkeith and West Struther for their friendly atmosphere and good craic!

Choice of best stockman ever?

Again, there are countless talented men and women in the world of farming, however, in the cattle I would say the late Dave Smith. He was a master of his game and was a legend.

Another big name in the cattle world is Jimmy McMillan as he’s been at the top of the tree for years and everything he does is perfection.

In the sheep, Angus Kennedy, of Mitchellhill has topped everything in the Blackie world over the years and he is one individual I look up to. Another would be John Hall from Inglewood Edge, at Brampton, who has been consistently at the top over the years with prime lambs.

Best and worse advice you’ve ever received?

It depends who’s giving you the advice! No one knowingly gives you bad advice but my old boss at Overshiels used to say: “One door closes and another door opens...if you want to achieve something, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

Biggest showing achievement?

I would say winning female champion and reserve overall Blackface with Hot Gossip at the Royal Highland Show, in 1981.

Favourite drink?

I drink a fair bit of tea nowadays but I am known to take the odd vodka and Irn-Bru!

Hobbies or interests outwith farming?

I enjoy going to Ibrox, but the world of showing takes up a lot of your time. Showing was our hobby and we thoroughly enjoyed touring the shows.

Future of the show circuit?

There are so many critics out there that deem showing livestock a waste of time, but in my opinion, it gives farmers, stockmen, shepherds and also the general public a great deal of enjoyment. Surely when we get back to some sort of normality following this pandemic, this has to be a benefit to everyone.

I’m in no doubt that once this pandemic has passed that the shows will be back up and running. We have an abundance of farmers sitting at home with top stock who are just desperate to show them off to everybody.