Husband and wife team Richard and Carol Rettie have been preparing and showing cattle for breeders for more than two decades.
Katrina Macarthur visits them ahead of the Stirling bull sales...
Bringing out animals to show winning potential is no easy feat and maintaining those championship wins throughout the season requires skill, hard work and determination.
It is a talent which freelance stockmen Richard and Carol Rettie from Perthshire, have transformed into a successful livery business, with the couple preparing, showing and selling pedigree cattle for breeders from all over the UK each year.
The husband and wife duo, who are now based at Craigend Farm, Methven, near Perth, have become well-known faces at agricultural shows and sales up and down the country, bringing out prize-winners and sale leaders with multiple breeds.
Initially, Mr Rettie worked as a full-time stockman in a pedigree Charolais herd south of the border, before moving up to Scotland in 1997 with Mrs Rettie to contract farm a unit in the Stirling area.
That same year they founded their Retties Aberdeen-Angus herd when they purchased a female named Heathlands Panache at the old Perth bull sales.
“It all began when a friend asked if we could help prepare his two bulls and take them to sale for him,” says Mrs Rettie, who also works part-time at a veterinary practice in Perth.
“I suggested to Richard that we could take more pedigree stock in and make a business out of it but he was not so sure it would work and just laughed at me.”
Mr Rettie, who originally hails from Yorkshire, says: “Before we knew it, we were breaking in and showing and selling stock on behalf of several well-known breeders. Our first few customers were Billy Crawford of the Redheughes herd, Haddington; Beef Shorthorn breeder, Tom McMillan from the Isle of Rothesay; and Ronnie MacKay, Caithness.”
Fast forward more than 20 years and the business has grown massively, with the duo now breaking in more than 100 animals per year including a few of their own.
They are fortunate to be able to work with some of the best cattle in the business and have a number of longstanding customers including Aberdeen-Angus breeders Donald Rankin, Isle of Skye, and Brailes Livestock, Banbury.
They also bring out cattle on a regular basis for butcher John Gilmour and Co, and Andrew Mylius, Newport on Tay, who owns a number of different breeds.
“Nowadays, not everyone can justify employing a full-time stockman,” says Mr Rettie.
“We have a lot of great clients who are happy to rear their animals to a certain stage before handing them over to us. It is an enjoyable challenge doing what we do and we could not do it without our team of staff including sons Jamie and Chas, who help us at shows and sales.”
While the Rettie team exhibit at no fewer than a dozen shows throughout the summer, they are also kept busy with shows in the winter including the Stars of the Future calf show, the Black Beauty Bonanza and Agri-Expo.
Bull sales at Stirling, Carlisle and Dingwall, as well as the Lincoln Red sale at Newark, are all fitted into the couple’s calendar year, too.
“We do not tend to have many free weekends in the year and it is only the months of January and April, when we are not at a show or a sale,” says Mrs Rettie. “As soon as the October bulls are sold, we start preparations on the February bulls. Then once they are gone, we begin working with the show team for the summer.”
Exhibiting at so many events over the years has resulted in the Retties securing an impressive number of championship credentials with livery cattle and home-bred stock.
One animal which sticks out in mind for the duo is the Beef Shorthorn bull Cairnsmore Thrasher, which Richard and Carol brought out for Mark Holmes from Wolverhampton.
Bred by Bill and Jane Landers, it stood inter-breed champion at the Great Yorkshire and reserve inter-breed at the last ever Royal Show.
Other major achievements include five championship wins at the Royal Highland Show with livery cattle, as well as the reserve breed title and two female championships at the same event with their own Aberdeen-Angus.
This year’s summer show season was another successful one for the team when a two-year-old heifer owned by Brailes Livestock, stood champion at the summer national show and the Royal Welsh Show.
Despite working with multiple breeds of cattle and running small herds of Beef Shorthorns and Charolais, the Aberdeen-Angus has become the mainstay of the couple’s enterprise.
“The Aberdeen-Angus breed has a huge part to play in the future of the beef industry, producing cattle which are easy fleshing and the correct target weight for the market,” says Mr Rettie. “Cows are easy calving and calves are always up on their feet and sucking quickly which suits our system when we are away from home so much.”
Over the years, the 30-cow herd has produced several five-figure sales for bulls and heifers when sold in private deals to noted breeders. One in particular was Retties JFK, a bull which sold to Donald Rankin in 2013 and still continues to make a stamp in herds across the UK.
Heifers have sold equally as well for the Retties, with Retties Lady Ruth 228 selling as an eight-month-old calf in a private deal. It went on to bag the breed championship at the Highland Show in 2016 as a three-year-old for its new owners when shown by Mrs Rettie.
On the other side of the coin, the Retties paid a half share in Halbeath Pam with Donald Rankin, which has become a consistent breeder in the herd.
“We do a lot of AI and embryo transfer work but now that we have kept more heifers in recent years, we are going to try and breed naturally,” says Mr Rettie. “One of our most influential females was the original Retties Lady Ruth, a daughter of Wall Emperor, which bred top-quality bulls sold to pedigree breeders.”
The herd grazes throughout the summer months at Craigend and comes inside during October, when fed a basic diet of silage, straw and minerals. Calves are weaned at seven to eight months of age and the Retties aim to have heifers calving between two and two-and-a-half years. Bulls and heifers not suitable for breeding are sold direct to ABP.
In the meantime, its preparations for this month’s Stirling Bull Sales, which has been keeping the duo busy. They are heading to the event with nine Aberdeen-Angus bulls although both admit that this is a relatively small team, having previously brought out as many as 30 bulls at Stirling in previous years.
Included in their strong line-up of bulls is the couple’s sole entry Retties Lord of the Rings – an April, 2018-born bull by Water End Paton, out of Retties Lady Ruth. Its sire stood reserve champion at the Highland Show in 2018 and was breed champion at the Yorkshire Show.
One of the other bulls for sale is the March, 2018-born Schivas Methlick Boy, a bull owned by Brailes Livestock. It stood reserve male and junior male champion at this year’s Highland Show and is a son of Gretnahouse Exocet.
With the first of the winter shows being staged next month and some of the bulls for sale in February already settled in at Craigend, the same cycle will begin again for Mr and Mrs Rettie.