A man with an eye for quality and a history of succession in both the sale and show ring, Michael Durno has certainly stamped his mark in the world of pedigree cattle.

Here he opens up to The SF about the best animals he has bred and his opinion on the future his chosen breeds.


My late grandfather, Duncan, got the tenancy of Auchorachan in 1953, so I was brought up on the farm. It was a traditional commercial farm with various breeds of cows put to the Charolais bull and my grandfather was one of the first in the area to use a Charolais in the early 1970s.

In the 1970s and 1980s there were still a lot of local marts, and we would go to all the show and sales and try to win a prize or two, and I suppose that got me interested in showing. I was always trying to breed something good and we then progressed to showing at the RNAS Spring Show, at Aberdeen; the Royal Highland Show; and eight local summer shows.

What got you into breeding Simmentals, Charolais and show calves?

The Charolais were the first breed I got into and probably solely because of the quality of calf we were breeding. The bull, Glassel Satchmo, had a lot to do with that as he bred a lot of top show calves.

The Simmentals were probably a natural progression as most of our commercial cows were Simmental crosses by the late 1990s. The first pedigree females we purchased were four bulling heifers from the Ravensworth dispersal in 2002, which were delivered home for the average price of £525.

One of those was Ravensworth Madie, which went on breed extremely good calves, including Auchorachan Wizard – the overall champion at Stirling in 2010 and sold for 20,000gns!

What qualities do you like about the breeds that you work with over others?

The Charolais is still the number one terminal sire, with it's weight gain and conformation. I also now keep a few pedigree Salers. Primarily I used a Salers bull on heifers that were calving at two-years-old and they make great replacement females when crossed onto a Simmental.

The Simmental is the real all rounder – unbeatable maternally and probably second only to the Charolais as a terminal breed.

Your first big sale or show?

The first year I exhibited at the Royal Highland Show was in 1989, where I took a Glassel Satchmo bullock and stood champion commercial! Also, 1989 was a great year as I was also champion at the Spring Show in Aberdeen and had the Young Farmers champion at the Christmas Classic with different Charolais bullocks.

Best animal you’ve bred?

My best cross calf was Smarty Pants, by Allanfauld Vagabond, which sold for £1900 at the Spring Show in 1993 to Ewan Macpherson. She went on to dominate the show circuit that year, including securing titles at the Highland and the Classic.

Not far behind her would be a Satchmo-sired heifer that I was champion with at the Aberdeen Spring Show in 2007 – Milky Way – and she sold for £2700 to Will Owen.

The best Simmental would be Auchorachan AC/DC – he was champion at Stars of the Future and went on to sell for 12,000gns at Perth Bull Sales, in February, 2011. I am now using a son of his as my main stock bull.

Best animal you’ve seen?

Two Charolais stand out in my mind, the first being Elgin Catherine, which looked tremendous at the Highland. I also once saw Burradon Talisman at Thrunton and just thought he was as good a bull as I’d seen.

In the Simmentals, the cow I remember most is Popes Princess Cleo. She had a great carcase, milk and character. I also remember seeing Sterling Parliamentarian at the Highland Show many years ago and being very impressed.

In the cross cattle, I would have to say The Bandit and Dancing Queen – they were just perfection.

Best animal you’ve bought?

I'd like to turn this question around! A Charolais bull – Glenlivet Single Malt – that I took to Perth Bull Sales many years ago was rejected by the buyer and so I was forced to take the bull home.

I ended up using him in the herd and he turned out to be one of best Charolais bulls I had ever used. I sold lots of semen off him and he bred some fantastic calves too – a blessing in disguise?

Most abiding memory?

It has to be Stirling Bull Sales in February, 2010, as this was the first time I’d taken a team of three bulls. Wizard stood overall champion and sold for 20,000gns, while Winger was first in his class and sold for 10,000gns. The three bulls averaged £11,620 that day!

This was particularly pleasing as a young auctioneer had been in the previous week and valued them at an average between £3000 and £4000!

Biggest disappointment?

As others have said, when your business is livestock, your biggest disappointments usually involves death!

Most influential person?

I can’t really single out any individual. I think I have went about my career with my eyes open and picked up ideas and inspiration along the way.

Your favourite sale?

All through the 1990s, we had great sales at the Thainstone Spectacular selling commercial show calves. Many would go to great show people like David Sinclair, Scott Watson and Ewan Macpherson.

The Paton family were regular buyers and always had great success with Auchorachan calves, including a champion at the Scottish Winter Fair and numerous championships at the Christmas Classic.

Best breeder in your opinion?

In the Simmentals, two men I had great respect for were David Wall, of Curaheen, in Ireland, and Hector Macaskill, from Woodhall. Both were totally immersed in the breed and were forward thinking about new genetics.

In the commercial job, John and Craig Robertson, at Logierait, are top class. Jim Goldie must be as good as they come in the Charolais and other breeds.

Best advice?

In the late 1990’s, I met Kenny Mair in the market one day and he suggested that I should be breeding pedigree stock rather than just show calves. He was right at that time and his advice stuck with me.

Biggest achievement?

The quality of my herd of pedigree Simmentals. We have been classifying our cows for the last couple of years and every cow assessed is either VG or EX.

Any hobbies outside of farming?

I don’t have much time for hobbies, but under normal times, I do play quite a lot of darts on dark winter nights.

Future of you’re chosen breeds?

The reason we stopped going to the Spectacular sale like we used to with the cross calves was mainly due to the type of calves that were in demand.

I was taking calves that were correct and a more natural type compared to the extreme British Blue types that seemed to be selling better. I wasn’t prepared to try and breed that extreme type with the practical difficulties it can involve.

The Limousin is the dominant sire in the show calf job and they seem to be getting more extreme, chasing bigger back ends all the time and maybe loosing their milk along the way.

I think some breeders are obsessed with the Myostatin gene, which I don’t think is an exact science. Maybe in time, it won’t be a big backside that pays.

I think the Simmental breed has an extremely bright future. The females are so versatile – you can use any breed of sire on them and they will produce the goods. Bulls can supply dual purpose offspring, in good milky females or males that will perform better than most other breeds.

Recent high demand for bulls would suggest that the breed is ticking a lot of boxes for efficient beef production.