Breeder of the Future Interview: Isla Shaw

Breeder of the Future Interview: Isla Shaw


We recently interviewed one of our ‘breeders of the future,’ Isla Shaw, age 22 from West Lethans Farm in Saline, who owns the “Maree” Aberdeen Angus Herd. It was great to unveil more about Isla’s farming background, previous studies and current work, cattle breeding experience, familiarity with the Aberdeen-Angus breed and aspirations for the future. (Picture above taken by Ceamara photography.) 


How long have you been involved in farming?

“I have been involved in farming my whole life. I grew up on a beef and sheep farm in the West of Fife. The farm is run by my dad Willie Shaw and two older brothers Calum and Alister. We farm around 1400 cross ewes, 800 pure ‘Blackies’ along with 200 Aberdeen-Angus cross cows where Aberdeen-Angus bulls are used. Aside from the main farm enterprise I have my own pedigree Aberdeen-Angus Herd which I started in 2015 when I bought my first cow at the Weeton Dispersal sale. This was Weeton Lady Heather who was carrying the last Weeton Legend calf, which turned out to be a bull calf. I bought my second cow in February, Eastfield Janice with her bull calf at foot by Halbeath Kansas. Both bull calves were sold at Stirling in May where they achieved 6200 gns and 3500 gns respectively.  This year I have a heifer by Duncanziemere Edwin and bull calf by Retties JFK which I am very excited to work with them and see how they perform in the future.”  


Where did you study?

“I attended the Scottish Rural University College in Edinburgh where I attained my HND in Agriculture and an Honours Degree in Rural Business Management. During my time at college I endured the gruelling task of writing a dissertation of 10,000 words on the factors which effect sheep lameness, a task that I would not recommend anyone take on, but, in hindsight, I am very glad I did see it through. My honours degree has opened so many doors for me and without it I would not be in the job that I am currently in.”


Do you have any experience of cattle breeding?

“My experience of cattle breeding is limited but one thing I have always been told by my dad is they must have correct feet and legs. If an animal cannot walk properly then it’s no use, so I try to use this advice when choosing the animals that I keep for breeding. I have enjoyed getting more into the breeding side and have found it extremely interesting so far. For example, I have learnt about estimated breeding values (EBV), which are a very useful tool. But I do still think that it is more important to first of all look at the animal in front of you before backing it up with what the figures say.”


Do you have any experience working with Aberdeen-Angus?

“We do have Aberdeen-Angus cattle at home on the farm and I have been lucky enough to work with them from a young age whenever help is needed.  But the world of pedigree Aberdeen-Angus is still very new to me. When I first started getting involved I realised that the best way to get my name out there in the world of pedigrees would be to start participating in shows. This turned out to be an eye opener as the amount of work that goes into getting a beast ready for a show is tremendous, and that is before you even get to step into the show ring! I have learnt a lot from other breeders who have all been very welcoming, encouraging and patient. Another huge help has been the Youth Development Programme that has provided a platform for young people to learn and enhance their skills within a wide range of aspects; whether it be learning to clip or stock judging. Attendance at these really is a great chance to learn and develop your skills in a fun and friendly environment. This also allows the opportunity to meet loads of other young people that share a passion for cattle.”


What do you currently do in terms of work?

“After completing my honours degree in July I started working at Galbraith in Stirling as a graduate surveyor within the national farm sales team. I never wanted a job where I was chained to a desk so rural surveying was a great fit. No day is the same whether it be preparing deed plans, organising viewings or meeting potential clients. At Galbraith you are instantly made to feel part of the team. When starting on my pathway to becoming a graduate surveyor Galbraith was the  company I always wanted to work for as I feel they have found the perfect balance of professionalism along with approachability!”


What are your ambitions for the future?

“Regarding the future, I hope to pass my APC (Assessment of Professional Competence) which I will start in September of this year and will take two years to complete. Once I (hopefully!) pass this I will be a qualified chartered surveyor, so it will allow me to progress professionally! With regard to cattle, I do hope to start growing my own herd slowly in my spare time, which I am really excited about!”


What are your thoughts on the Aberdeen-Angus breed, both a present and with regard to what the future holds?

“At the moment I think the Aberdeen-Angus breed is going from strength to strength. It’s always been a breed that has suited our home farm as they are easy calving, hardy and easy fleshing, so they were the natural choice for me when I started my herd. I think there has been a shift in people using Aberdeen-Angus bulls not only because of the premium paid for the meat but also with the abattoirs reducing the upper weight limit to 400kg. This has called for cattle to be lighter, which is something that I think has increased the popularity of the use of Aberdeen-Angus bulls rather than using bulls from larger beef breeds.”


If you were able to choose 5 famous people to a dinner party who would it be, and why?

My first choice would be Prince Harry. Out of the royals he is my favourite and I also have a few unanswered questions about Diana that I would like to ask him. Mary Berry would be my next choice as I would love to find out what she thinks of the new Great British Bake Off, she could also bring some dessert! Then it would be Adele because I find her hilarious but down to earth, she could also give us a song! I would also invite Bradley Walsh as I often watch The Chase, and find him very entertaining. Last but not least would have to be Zac Efron – I’m not sure what sort of personality he has but he’s very easy on the eye!

What would you choose to serve them at your dinner party, and why?

To start I would have Mussels with a garlic and white wine sauce for main it would have to be roast beef (Aberdeen-Angus of course) with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and lots of gravy. For dessert I’m relying on Mary Berry to do this one, but ideally a chocolate fudge cake. This would be my dinner party meal of choice as it combines all of my favourite foods.

What is your favourite ‘tipple’?

I’m quite partial to a Vodka lemonade but if I’m really pushing the boat out my favourite would be a strawberry mojito. 

If you were to win £1m what would you choose to spend it on and why?

There are a few things I would like, I have always wanted to travel around America. I visited when I was younger but would love to go back and experience it now, including the agricultural side. A nice house with some land for my cattle and a horse wouldn’t go a miss either.

We’d like to thank Isla for taking the time to talk to us and we wish her all the best for her career and also her Aberdeen-Angus heard. We look forward to seeing much more from Isla in the years to come.