This week's spotlight shines on one of the most influential breeders within the world of pedigree Aberdeen-Angus cattle, Neil Massie, of the renowned Blelack herd.

Here he spoke with Kathryn Dick about his career highlights, most admired cattle and his hopes for the future of the native breed:

What’s your background?

I was born in Malaysia, where my father was a rubber planter before being taken as a prisoner of war and then eventually returning to continue his work.

My brother, sister and I were sent away to boarding school for our early education, before moving to Scotland as my mother had been left a small farm in Kintore, Aberdeenshire, totalling some 120 acres.

After I had spent time at agricultural college, in Aberdeen, I returned to the farm, where I started off with feeding cattle before moving into breeding cattle and then focussing on outdoor pigs and breeding chickens.

I moved to Blelack in 1967 and started the Angus herd in 1970, having bought two cows from Candacraig. Also, in 1972, I purchased 20 females to help form the Blelack herd from the Littledean dispersal.

What got you into breeding your choice of breed?

My mother’s brother, Alan Forbes, was a famous Aberdeen-Angus breeder in his day, however he unfortunately died while at Perth Bull Sales aged 42, so my mother took over the interest and that is also where my interest grew too.

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

I don’t believe that the Angus is somewhat better than other breeds, but I liked the fleshing ability and the quality of cattle.

The breed got into big trouble back in the day, when cattle were getting far too small and breeders faced a difficult few years.

In 1983, when I had been breeding them for 10 years, our first success was experienced at Perth when we won the championship with Black Satan of Blelack, which sold for 8000gns – an impressive price given that the sale average for the day was only 2000gns.

What was your first big breed sale or show win?

That bull, Black Satan of Blelack, was the first animal that we did really well with. It had taken years to get to the top of the breed, but he secured our first big show and sale win.

Which was the best animal that you’ve ever bred?

Well, I am fortunate to have had many to pick from, but a bull that we actually never took to the Perth Bull Sales and used at home, in my opinion would be rated as one of the best. He was called Blelack Black Stock and he bred a lot of tremendous females and a Perth champion too. He was sired by a Canadian bull, DMM Precision, which sired two Perth championship winners.

With regards to a female line, the Evora cow families have proved one of the best breeding lines and left us some fantastic females in the herd today.

But what was the best animal that you’ve ever seen?

Peter Donger’s Charolais cow, Kilkenny Celia, was the best cow I had ever viewed in my life. She was sheer quality and an almost perfect animal that was unbeatable at the time.

Best animal you’ve been out-bidded on or lost?

I don’t think I have ever been out-bidded on something I wanted, as if I thought I couldn’t afford it, then I wouldn’t bid for it in the first place.

If you could change one thing about your breed what would it be and why?

I think the breed is still too inconsistent – there are too many bad bulls still in the country and we need more consistency across the breed.

Scale is up and quality is improving all the time, however, when a lot of breeders all have different opinions, this can lead to more inconsistency. Time will cure it and it’s proving to be better, as nowadays you’ll find it more difficult to win championships on a regular basis due to the improved quality.

You’re most abiding memory?

The greatest thing about breeding pedigree is the great people you meet and friendships you make, and the interesting places you visit in the world.

Biggest disappointment in your career?

I don’t have a personal disappointment, but the number of lean years that we experienced with the breed were tough. A lot of people abandoned the Angus as they weren’t making money and in the late 1990s, it was hard to make a profit out of them.

When I was a young man, most people in Aberdeenshire used an Aberdeen-Angus bull, but in the ‘90s, all moved into either the Simmental, Charolais or Limousin, and it has been a hard slog to win them back.

Other parts of the country have been more successful than Aberdeenshire with the move back into the Angus, though. If you look at the Border country today, you’ll see that field after field is predominantly black cows, as people are finding that they are very economical cows and their calves sell well.

Most influential person in your career?

As far as cattle is concerned, the late Tom Bruce, of Eastfield of Lempitlaw, in my opinion was a very successful Angus breeder and realised that the breed was in a bad way. He became one of the pioneers that went out to Canada to bring back cattle that subsequently went on to improve the breed.

Another outwith the breed would be Bobby Robertson, who was chairman of the of British Charolais Cattle Society, and he invited me to go to France to buy cattle for this country – I learnt a lot about the breed through that.

What’s been your favourite sale to attend over the years and why?

The Perth Bull Sales in my day was an event and not just a place to sell your cattle. In the early years, it was the best four days you would look forward to – it is much more a business affair today.

I also used to travel to Canada every November – for 10 years – with my friend, Bob Lane, where we bought most of our bulls to bring back into the country.

Your choice of best breeder ever?

Well, in my lifetime, the most influential Angus breeder would be Bob Adam, of Newhouse of Glamis, who was the leading breeder when I was a young man and probably hasn’t been surpassed in this breed.

Outwith the Angus, I would say Jim Goldie, who has found success in more than the one breed and David Walter, who has used figures to form the perfect herd of Charolais cattle.

Best and worse advice?

The best would be not to give up on the Angus cattle, which I did think about on several occasions. I was advised by the well-known commercial man, Ronald Mathers, to stay put as the breed would come good again ... and he was right.

The worst would be when my wife, Helen, after poor sale in Stirling, asked me why I continued breeding Angus cattle when my Charolais were doing so well in comparison.

Biggest achievement?

Well, my three sons have all been successful in breeding cattle so that would be a big one, and the fact that we have had 12 Perth champions stands out too.

However, one of the main achievements is the fact that we have provided the foundation stock for so many herds, including Gretnahouse and Hillington, plus plenty others, which led to the overall improvement of their cattle.

If you could have gone into another breed what would it have been and why?

I’ve been in both Charolais and Shorthorns, which would be my second choice, but I don’t believe in running down any breed as they are all useful.

Anything you would go back and change in your career?

Looking back, I wish I had bought more land as it was cheap back then! However, I’ve enjoyed my career in the business and wouldn’t have changed it for anything else.

Any hobbies or interests out with farming?

I’m going to have to find some! I used to enjoy golf and I’m also very interested in rugby.

What’s the future of the breed in your opinion?

I think the Aberdeen-Angus is in a very strong position but it needs good leadership.

We have lots of young people coming into the breed, which is very encouraging. I was the architect of the Black Beauty Bonanza calf show, as I had witnessed how well it was doing in Canada – I thought it would help younger people come into showing cattle, as well as learn about the breed.