Growthy, lengthy, easy calving Charolais have certainly paid their way at Allanfauld, Kilsyth, where father and son duo, Archie and John MacGregor have relied on the breed, within their cattle herd, for half a century.

“Charolais is the best breed for crossing over any type of beef cattle, for quicker finishing, conformation and power,” said Archie, a former president of the British Charolais Cattle Society.

The family first realised the potential of the breed in 1970, when Archie’s two brothers, Jimmy and the late Donald MacGregor, ventured across to Reston to view Charolais crosses from the Robinsons’ of Snipe House. So impressed by the big white calves, they bought the bull, Mindrum Elite for £580 there and then.

As the first breeders in the area, the SAC was particularly interested in the progeny off that bull and how the breed could benefit Scotland's beef industry. They were not to be disappointed either, with regular visits showing Charolais cross calves weighing 50kg heavier at turnout than other breeds of the same age and on the same diet, and 75kg more at weaning time at the end of September.

The MacGregors were so impressed by the performance of the Charolais, that they then bought Kirkgate Ferdinand for 2000gns, at the first breed society sale at Perth. He bred a calf called Fizz, which went on to win Smithfield in 1976.

The Scottish Farmer:

Some of the pedigree cows  Ref:EC2301202890

“We began using the Charolais bull on our commercial cattle which worked really well for us, and moved onto breeding pedigree cattle in the mid 1970s,” said Archie, who after 50 years in the breed, knows exactly what type of bull he is looking for, with son John following in his footsteps.

“What we look for has changed dramatically over the years. Originally, we were mainly looking for muscly cattle, but now we aim to breed good tops, loins and plenty length, as these are the most valuable traits when it comes to selling suckled calves. The Charolais is well ahead of any beef breed for growth-rate figures,” said Archie, adding that their cattle still need to have plenty style and character.

"Our stock bulls need to have a bit of shape, good conformation and power throughout."

The Scottish Farmer:

Allanfauld Oscar, which is set for the bull sales next week  Ref:EC2301202888

Both Archie and John are confident that the reduced carcase specifications demanded by the abattoirs, work in their favour too.

John added: “We always look to produce an easy fleshed animal from medium-sized cows – we can’t carry big cows on our type of ground. We also think the carcase weight reduction isn’t a problem for the breed, as it will enable Charolais cross calves to be finished quicker with less feeding overall.”

Outwith appearance, the MacGregors also use figures as a tool when selecting new stock bulls.

“Figures are a useful tool, but it’s important that they’re not relied on entirely. The new myostatin testing is proving a worthwhile guide to what potentially could be an easier calving bull, and we will certainly take it into account when buying bulls and deciding which bulls to use on which females,” said John.

“It is also important to concentrate on the maternal side of things – milk figures and cattle that are long from hook to pin, and wide over the plates, are key to breeding a good cow with a good pelvis,” said John, who is now calving heifers at two-years-old to the Luing bull.

“Although our cattle have the genetics to grow into big cows, we manage them commercially, to fit into our system. We’ve found that calving the heifers at two years, is helping to keep them at a more manageable size and it’s also improved fertility, turning them into far more productive cows than previously, when calving at three-years,” he added.

The Scottish Farmer:

Allanfauld Ozzy, this heifer is destined for the sale at UA  Ref:EC2301202885

John, along with brother in-law, Matthew Milne, of the Elgin herd, and Neil Barclay, Harestone, followed up on this cow breeding theory with a trip to France last year, which resulted in them buying a new stock bull, Harestone Oscar. They hope this new outcross will help maintain strong female traits – a feature which is really focused on in France. Needless to say, they are looking forward to seeing the first progeny.

Along with this stock bull, they have a further two bulls – Kenaghan Ozzy and Maerdy Norseman – to test out this year.

The main brood cow at present is Allanfauld Heiress, which produced the family's top priced bull to date at 20,000gns, Allanfauld Neptune, a Balmyle Jasper son, sold at Stirling Bull Sales in October, 2018. She has bred several other influential animals, to include Allanfauld Lachie, which was retained in the herd with a share being sold to Wallace Brown, Barrance. He is the sire of most of the bulls going to Stirling next week. As he was coming back on to his own females, Lachie has since been sold to Will Owen, of the Deunawd herd in Wales, to be used as his new stock bull.

The Scottish Farmer:

Allanfauld Heiress, one of the best breeding cows in the herd  Ref:EC2301202884.

Going back several years, the purchase of Gretnahouse Noel made a real stamp on the herd, producing Allanfauld Ranger, which sold for the herd’s second top price of £17,000, and also the well-known 14,000gns Allanfauld Superscot.

The bull which brought the Allanfauld herd name to prominence in the 1980s, however, was Allanfauld Vagabond, which not only worked well at Allanfauld, but through AI, produced numerous fatstock winners to include three Smithfield champions as well as the dams of a further three Smithfield champions.

Historically, the most influential stock bull for the herd was Simpsons Gregg, bought in 1993. “He was a very consistent breeding bull of both males and females, and he stamped his mark on most herds that used him, through AI, with many top priced sons sold through the ring at Perth,” said John.

More recently, Woodpark Elgin, bought 10 years ago for 11,000gns, proved an exceptional purchase, producing sons to 12,000gns. “He was very good on his feet and legs, a real correct bull, and he transmitted this to his off-spring. Most of our current females in the herd go back to him,” said Archie.

This year, the family has a strong team of bulls for next week's Stirling Bull Sales – Othello, Oliver, Oscar, Orlando, Oswald, Obladi, Oblada, Olympus, and the heifer, Allanfauld Ozzy, with eight out of the nine going back to Allanfauld Heiress.

The Scottish Farmer:

Three of the bulls heading for Stirling, from left: Olympus, Obladi and Oscar  Ref:EC2301202889

“Seven out of the eight bulls heading to Stirling carry the F94L gene or none at all. They all have exceptional figures for calving ease and growth,” said Archie.

In order to maximise returns at Allanfauld, the MacGregors have invested in a 350kw Hydro scheme, which is now on its third year. In addition, they have 80 solar panels attached to the roof of a shed and have planted 220 acres of trees. Archie's wife, Libby has also run a Bed and Breakfast business on the farm for the past 26 years.

“It’s important to keep trying new things in order to keep on top of the business. We have a particularly wet farm, which is not ideal in a lot of ways, but the hydro is a way of making the most of the farm’s natural resources,” concluded Archie.


The Scottish Farmer:

Another of the home-bred bullsl Allanfauld Olympus which are set for Stirling Ref:EC2301202887

Farm facts:

Acres: 1600 acres.

Stock: 30 pedigree Charolais cows; six pedigree Limousins, 20 Luings, 1350 Blackface ewes, 30 Texels, 30 Bluefaced Leicesters and 200 Mules.

Allanfauld team: Archie and Libby MacGregor, son John and his wife, Bryony and children Matthew and Andrew. Full-time shepherd, David Kinloch.


The Scottish Farmer:
Allanfauld Obladi is part of the Stirling team Ref:EC2301202886


On the spot:

Best investment: The hydro system, to help diversify the farm (or perhaps purchasing our first Charolais bull!)

Best advice: “You should marry Libby” (she has proved to be quite a good breeder!)

Hobbies: “Farming is more a lifestyle to us than a job, our hobbies revolve around the farm and our pedigree cattle and sheep. I used to curl but gave it up a wee while ago now. I have been president of the Blackface Breeders' Association and the British Charolais Cattle Society, and John is now chairman of the local Blackface Sheep Breeders' branch,” said Archie.

John added: “We both have season tickets for Glasgow Warriors, so we enjoy going through to Scotstoun watch the rugby.”

If you could change one thing, what would it be: “Have a drier farm!”

Growing popularity of vegan diets? “There are a lot more problems in the world than this – the main issue is how much backing they seem to be getting. It does not seem to be having a huge effect on meat price, and therefore must only be a minority of the population. We need more backing from the government to futureproof farming, with clearer labelling and better marketing.”