Using Simmental suckler females to put to Charolais bulls not only produces some of the fastest growing progeny, but also calves that leave the highest margins.

It’s a policy which is undoubtedly paying dividends for Aberdeenshire father and son duo, Billy and Gary Wright, Lagavaich, Glenlivet, who although working full time at the local Glenlivet distillery, have become huge fans of the big white French breed matched to the Austrians.

So much so, that they run a select number of pedigree Charolais females, alongside a similar number of Simmentals to breed home-bred replacements and bulls to sell at United Auctions’ Stirling Bull Sales.


The Scottish Farmer:

LAGAVAICH CHAROLAIS cows with this year’s crop of summer-born calves and the herd’s stock bull, Elrick Jazzman Ref:RH300920369 


“Charolais bulls always produce the best stock and calves that leave the most money at the end of the day,” said Gary. “We breed for what the market demands, and Aberdeenshire finishers want Charolais cross calves because they have the fastest growth rates.

“They are also really versatile and can be pushed on to finish earlier than other breeds or crosses, or maintained at a certain level to finish when prices improve,” he said, adding that Charolais calves always attract premium prices for their age as a result.

As an out and out terminal sire, the Wrights rely on the Charolais to use on their Simmental females. “The Charolais onto the Simmental female produces a great orange or white calf that is a really saleable product at Thainstone. Charolais bulls also work well over any breed of cross-bred female and that’s another bonus of the breed,” said Gary.


The Scottish Farmer:

A STRONG looking spring-born calf running with its Simmental mother Ref:RH300920363


Such is the growth potential of the Lagavaich Charolais crosses, that the average weight of their March-June born calves at weaning the first week of November over the past three years has been 350kg. Sold in January at an average of roughly nine months of age, through Aberdeen and Northern Marts, at Thainstone, they levelled at £1045 over the past three years with an average weight of 410kg for every spring calf born.


The Scottish Farmer:

A GOOD line-up of spring born Charolais cross calves out of Simmental dams Ref:RH300920389


It is breeding pedigree Charolais that the boys really enjoy and particularly, showing at local and national events. “Growing up, I was lucky enough to help Michael Durno show Charolais cross calves, as well as being lucky enough to get the experience helping Johnny and Raymond Irvine at the Bull Sales, so I soon caught the showing bug,” said Gary, who secured the reserve female Charolais championship at the Royal Highland, in 2014, with Lagavaich Hermine.

“The local shows provide some tough competition as we’re up against some of the best Charolais herds in the country, with Elgin and Inverlochy cattle often exhibiting, but it is all about supporting the events, more than winning, and the banter that goes with it is always good,” said Gary, who has landed the championship at all local shows over the years.

“It’s mainly our pedigree Charolais that we take out, but, a good, flashy Charolais cross calf is extremely hard to beat in the show ring, especially when it comes to the fat stock shows,” he added.


The Scottish Farmer:

SIGNATURE BIG lugs on these Charolais cows running with their summer born calves Ref:RH300920375


Until 2002, all the cross cows were AI’d to the best Charolais sires available, with the first bull purchased being Bailea Scott, then in 2006 Corrie Banker, from Duncan MacGregor. He bred tremendous calves, but unfortunately he hurt himself in his second season, so the Wrights went straight back to Duncan and bought the 14-month-old Corrie Director privately.

“We didn’t have a great time of it that winter as the roofs of our sheds all collapsed in the snow and the cows had to be outwintered. We probably overfed the cows as a result and ended up having a really bad calving that spring.

The following year, however, when all the sheds were sorted and the cows were fed a fixed ration inside, calving was a breeze to the same bull. “It just goes to show that ease of calving can be about cow management as much as the bull used,” said Gary.

With the two Corrie bulls having performed so well on the commercial herd, the team then looked to buy a pedigree female when that herd was dispersed in 2010.

“The purchase of Cyglen Shirley as an in-calf cow and with heifer calf at foot at 1700gns, was a steal for us, and soon led us to breeding our own bulls,” said Gary, adding that the bull calf she was carrying made 7000gns at UA’s May multi-breed bull sale at Stirling, in 2012, to John Jeffrey, Kersknowe.

“I know we didn’t breed the bull as such, but it was great to see him go on and breed well for the Jeffreys, with sons selling to 10,500gns,” added Gary.


The Scottish Farmer:

Lagavaich Charolais calves(L-R) heifers Roxy and Rub with Bull calf Rubick Ref:RH300920381


A second foundation Charolais female came from the Kelton dispersal in 2010. This was an in-calf heifer with heifer calf at foot which cost 3500gns.

“When we were buying females we looked more into the breeding success of the cow family, as opposed to what the female looked like herself, although it is obviously a bonus if she looked the part as well.”

With a select number of pedigree females and home-bred heifers retained, Lagavaich has enjoyed a few top bull sales in recent years, with a personal best for a home-bred bull paid in February this year of 10,000gns for Lagavaich Orlando, purchased by noted commercial breeder, George Wordie.

Being a hi-health status herd and Johnes level one, the Wrights hope to be able to maintain by retaining home-bred replacement females. That was also one of the reasons why they looked into breeding pedigree Simmentals when they purchased a few females from Danny Leslie, of Redhill, in 2014. They are AI’d twice to the best sires available and if they fail to hold they are then put to the Charolais stock bull.

Hence, this year Billy and Gary have three entries for next weekend’s Stirling Bull Sales, including one Charolais, and two Simmentals. Their big white bull is Lagavaich Pikachu, a son of Woodpark Elgin, whilst the two Simmentals are Lagavaich Kojak, by Auchorachan ACDC and Lagavaich Kyle, by Team Celtic.


The Scottish Farmer:

LAGAVAICH ENTRIES for Stirling (left to right) Pikachu, Kojak and Kyle Ref:RH300920396


“Usually we sell our Simmentals at Thainstone, or privately, but this will be the best two Simmental bulls we have bred, so we thought we would give them a chance at Stirling which attracts more buyers,” said Gary.

A Charolais bull is also purchased every few years for the commercial herd as an outcross, with the current stock bull being Elrick Jazzman, purchased at Stirling in 2015 for 4500gns.

“We didn’t use him on the pedigree cows for a start because of his poor figures and the effect it could have trying to sell his progeny.

“It is upsetting to see so many good bulls not being purchased by pedigree men because of poor figures, however it does mean the commercial men are able to buy good bulls at a reasonable price. The myostatin is another equation to be considered when buying a bull now.

“What tools people decide to use is their own choice, but our eye is still our main merchant and increasingly importantly, the health status,” said Gary.

Despite Jazzman’s poor figures, Billy and Gary had also used him on their pedigree females that didn’t settle to AI in first two attempts, which in turn has produced quality animals, with sons selling to 10,000gns and 6500gns.


The Scottish Farmer:

The Simmental cows have good mothering ability and product good quality calves   Ref:RH300920383 


With 45 cows, of which 10 are pedigree, it’s a busy time for Billy and Gary when they both work full time. However, it is a real family team at Lagavaich and there are always plenty of hands on deck.

Gary’s mother, Gill, is a big part of the business, along with his partner, Zoe, who are always on hand to watch calving cows when the men are at work. The next generation is already showing a strong interest – Spencer (8), Neve (10) and Struan (7), with Spencer showing his first Charolais heifer at Keith Show last year.

Gary’s sister and brother in law, Donna and Fraser, their kids Neive (7) and Cameron (5) again just love being at the farm and spending time working with the cattle.

“We aim to breed bulls that we would be happy to use in our own herd. We want to be selling bulls for use in today’s market – an easy calving, easy fleshing, modern day Charolais that will breed well for everyone.

“Using a modern-day Charolais bull on suckler cows can play a huge part in producing a sustainable beef industry for the future, as the progeny finish fast, thereby leaving the highest margin for the farmer, and ticking all the boxes for efficiency,” concluded Gary.

The Scottish Farmer:

THE SIMMENTAL cows have good mothering abilities and produce strong quality calves Ref:RH300920365


Farm Facts

Livestock: 45 cows – 35 Simmental cross cows, five pedigree Charolais and five pedigree Simmentals

Acres: 75 acres owned at Lagavaich and 25 acres for grazing at a neighbouring farm

Involved: Father and son duo, Billy and Gary Wright


ON the Spot Questions

Best return on investment? Buying our foundation Charolais female from Duncan MacGregor

Best advice? We have been lucky enough to get a lot of advice from friends around us in the cattle job, but one of the main ones is, if you get the females right, the bulls will follow.

Biggest achievement? Hitting the five-figure price achieving 10,000gns at Stirling Bull Sales in February, it is something we thought we would never do for only having five pedigree Charolais.

If you could change one thing, what would it be? The public perception of farming, there should be more appreciation for the industry, resulting in more financial reward allowing more youngsters to farm full time.

Any hobbies? Playing darts in the winter, it is more enjoyable than my father, he is still trying to play football at 59 years old.


The Scottish Farmer:

A strong Simmental cow and calf outfit  Ref:RH300920392