A freelance stockman who attended all major UK shows Andy had a lot to share with The SF on how it was done in the 1990s. After a successful career in the UK, Andy moved out to France 14 years ago as a new adventure began …

Your background?

I left the family farm in 1988 and went freelance. Initially, I worked with the early British Blue imports and took the very first one to Smithfield.

I used to lairage and feed cattle for breeders, including a team from Ron Collins from the Isle of Man and took the first British Blues into Australia for him in 1989.

Along with bringing out cattle, I started the Ultra-groom brand and I was the first to bring in grooming products from USA. I actually invented Limmoshine in a shed in my garden! I supplied grooming products to just about every breeder in UK until I sold the brand to Ritchey Tagg in 1993 and worked for them for a few years running their exhibition unit – the only time I have ever been employed!

After that, as well as still dressing cattle here and there, I went into computing and together with another guy, wrote a programme designed specifically for pedigree stock breeding. From there, I earned my living in mainstream computing. My wife, Wendy and I now run a small property company based in Scotland.

It has been a while since I have been heavily involved. I think the last cattle I dressed were for John Scott, from Fearn – a team of six Shorthorn bulls at Stirling, in 2014, which averaged 6000gns.

Your own livestock?

I ran 40 Texel ewes under the Menithwood prefix until 2005, but always stayed involved with the family farm. I lambed and brought out sheep off Coningswick, which included 25 Beltex ewes and my mother’s small flock of Welsh Torwens.

My grandfather bred white Wyandotte chickens in the 1930s, winning the national laying trials three times in four years. He always had a sideboard full of massive silver cups, which inspired me.

He ended up buying four farms from his exploits in that and fruit trees, including Coningswick, where my Dad stayed and the name we ran our prefix under.

What is it you are looking for in a beast?

I learnt my trade dressing cattle from great men of the time and soon realised it’s as much about the front end as the rear. A winner will always show themselves from the front first.

A beast needs balance and flesh, but a flashy pair of lugs and a swanky walk will always catch a judge’s eye. In my early days in fatstockers, a good coat of hair was important so you could transform a beast into the shape in my mind’s eye.

If you had to choose another breed to go into what would it be?

I never bred pedigree cattle, but we had numerous flocks of sheep. I enjoyed the early days with the Bleu du Maine and we won a lot of trophies.

My father was one of the first into Beltex sheep, the same time that I started in Texels. He did much better at shows than I did, but I think I had the top price!

Wendy and I have just bought some Ryelands, as they originate from my home district in England.

What got you involved in showing?

When I was a boy, we topped the prices in Kidderminster market for cattle and pigs most weeks, and my first venture into showing was when we won the Christmas show when I was eight years old. A few years later we took a Friesian steer to Birmingham primestock and I had a few days off boarding school to look after it, sleeping on a bale beside the beast. I was hooked on showing ever since.

A couple of years later, I made my debut at Smithfield and had my eyes opened! That is where I learned my trade from some of the great stockmen.

Best Highland Show achievements?

I brought out first prize winners in Limousins, Blondes and British Blues at the Highland over the years, but I think winning the Beltex championship was pretty special. You are always up against the best.

Along with my friend, Mark Lewis, we brought out the female champion around 1990 with a Blonde heifer bred by Bill Quick and I dressed a Limousin junior male champion for Willie Bedell a couple of years later.

The Royal Welsh was more our show and we won the inter-breed pairs with a Scottish-bred Bleu du Maine ewe called Teviot Jane, in 1990, along with Jim Goldie’s Fortress. My father won the supreme Beltex numerous times.

Which was the best animal that you’ve shown?

I am proud of dressing Cindy for Dai Thomas in 1993. I recognised her potential when I first saw her in the spring and asked Dai to enter her for Smithfield. She arrived with a lot of hair and it took me a day to get her into shape. But she went all the way.

I also dressed Harry Emslie’s Double the following year. Also, a four-year-old British Blue cow called Fifi de St Fontaine, from the Isle of Man, was pretty special. She was a winner everywhere she went.

Best animal that you have ever seen?

I know I’m not on my own for mentioning Kilkenny Celia. She just oozed with class and Jim always had her at 12 o’clock.

Hugh and Lynn Dunlop’s Dancing Queen was another natural winner. I stewarded Smithfield the year she won and had her picked out when she came off the lorry.

Weight of cattle for abattoirs?

I am not in that trade anymore. In my young days we would run 500 Friesian steers and kill them all at 400kg before they were a year old! Barley was cheap back then.

Have commercial cattle changed for the better?

I think carcase cattle are improving all the time through intelligent breeding, but I prefer a bit of marbling in my steak! Where we are in France it is virtually impossible to get decent beef, so we buy Angus sirloins in bulk whenever we are back in Scotland and then supply all our friends!

But the commercial show cattle job has become very specialist now, both breeding and dressing them. And being able to pay for them!

Is it harder breeding a show calf?

Over the last few years I have studied a lot of great breeders such as JE Kerr (Angus) and Captain de Quincey (Hereford). They each used the same formula, and it was always about fixing traits in females. Get those right and the show calves will come.

Abiding memory?

Having the keys to the Smithfield glass box was always special. I feel privileged to have had them twice. It’s an elite club!

Biggest disappointment?

My father always said, ‘win or lose, we’ll have some booze!’

What kept you motivated on the bad days?

Social media comes in handy, even if it’s only to wind up Duncan McLaren!

Most influential person in your career?

I always looked up to Jim Goldie. He always seemed to be able to breed winners with ease and still does. My grandfather also gave me a lot of encouragement.

Your choice of best stockman/shepherd ever?

Hereford stockman, Bob Powell, taught me a lot, but Jim Donald was the master to watch and learn from. When he spoke, you listened and when he didn’t, you watched.

The best kist parties?

Big Gavin Shanks always hosted a great party at the Royal Show. Someone once persuaded me to stand on a kist and sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot at a Smithfield kist party. I think I got three lines in before I was rugby tackled off there to a Scottish chorus of ‘you can stick your f****n chariot up your erse!’

Favourite quote?

My father once said: ‘If I can breed a sheep with an arse as big as my missus, it will be a winner!’

If you could change one thing ...?

I have had a fantastic life with livestock and met some wonderful folks. I have no regrets. Everything that has occurred has made my journey possible to where I am today.

Biggest showing achievement?

Dressing a Smithfield champion.

Best advice for someone starting off?

Be humble. And listen.

Best investment?

I bought a Texel tup lamb from Keith Jamieson for 280gns at Builth. He bred tremendously well and one of his first offspring won the ewe lamb class at the Royal in 2002. I sold a granddaughter back to him a few years later. We had also bought one for 9000gns that year which bred very little!

Where has your career landed you now?

I moved to France 14 years ago to start writing, where we run a small commercial flock of Charollais sheep, and provide quality lamb to our neighbours. We still keep a house by the sea in Fife, which we rent out in summer and spend our winters there. I am currently really enjoying running a podcast called Toplines and Tales, recording the merits of great cattlemen and past days.

Could you imagine your life without showing?

I’ve been away from it far too long, but we just bought a Ryeland gimmer. Say no more!

The future of the showing circuit?

I have sat on a few committees over the years and know that running a show is financially tricky at the best of times, so I hope they all survive this year. There are some tremendously keen youngsters out there who deserve the fun we have had.