Making ends meet in an era of ever diminishing returns if far from easy, however, it is achievable by consistently producing a quality product and one that regularly attracts premium prices.

For the Forbes family from Dalrachie – Willie and Jenny, son Alan and his wife Sarah Jane – that means breeding top end Charolais cross calves to sell as yearlings through Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ Thainstone Centre.

“There is nothing to beat the Charolais for growth rates and weight gain,” said Willie. “Charolais cross calves are what the finishers in Aberdeenshire and further afield have always looked for and it’s these calves that more or less always produce the top prices at Thainstone,” he added.

A staunch enthusiast of the breed since the year dot, it was Willie's father, also William who was one of the first to experiment with the breed commercially, when he purchased the first ever Charolais bull born in the UK.

That was Crosslanes Crusader, a son of the Milk Marketing Board's French-bred sire, Simoun, out of Crosslandes Aiglonne, owned by Berkshire breeder, Roger Chapman. Born in 1967, Crusader was originally sold to Johnny Irvine of the pedigree Inverlochy herd from Tomintoul, and arrived at Dalrachie almost 10 years later.

Now, more than 40 years later, the Forbes remain just as passionate about the breed and it's future, despite the fact processors and butchers are demanding smaller cuts of meat and carcases.

Alan added: "Charolais cross calves are still the cattle most in demand up here because the finishers know they can finish them quicker and at the right carcase weights.

“Charolais calves are also some of quietest cattle to work with which is of huge importance when farmers are often working on their own these days.”

Proof of the pudding is of course in the sales lines, and the 57 Dalrachie yearling calves sold at sales in September and November through Thainstone, averaged £1060 per head at 460kg. Admittedly, this was back £40 per head on the year along with all breeds, following the lack of forage and straw produced.

However, the Dalrachie calves were still some of the top priced lots sold through the mart.

It has been a similar situation year on year for this 300-acre upland unit situated just outside Ballindalloch, with their Charolais cross yearling calves either sold in the back-end or the spring regularly producing lead four-figure prices and averages at the sales.

Two years ago, the business enjoyed some of its best ever sales, selling yearling heifer and bullock calves to average in excess of £1300, but then that was when the fat trade was above £4 per kg deadweight.

These prices were paid for some of the best calves ever bred at Dalrachie too, with most being progeny of Inverlochy Edition, a 12,000gns purchase at the Spring Show at Thainstone.

Producing superior quality Charolais calves that regularly attract the big bucks is not as easy as it sounds though – buying the right type of stock bull and of course having the most suitable cows to rear such big, creamy coloured calves are essential.

Alan added: “The best Charolais cross calves will always command the top prices at Thainstone because the finishers know they produce the highest margins at the end of the day.

“We look to buy bulls with size and length and bulls from well-known lines from top breeders. We also follow a lot of the bloodlines to see how various bulls have performed and look to see a bull at the show before we’d ever buy a stock bull," Alan said pointing out that they don't really consider calving figures when purchasing.

In saying that, while 50% of the calves born at Dalrachie will have been ‘pulled,’ there are few if any problems at calving, but then the Forbes look to manage their cows well on run up to calving to ensure they don’t put on too much condition.

On the other side of the equation, the team relies on some big, long milky cows to calve and rear such valuable calves and for the Forbes’ that means pure or three-quarter-bred Simmental. Most of these are bought at breeding cattle sales at Thainstone, from reliable herds with high health status as heifers with calves at foot.

In the past these have included commercial heifers from Towiemore and Delfur Farms, although the business also had its own Simmental bull to breed a few home-bred replacements in the past.

In contrast to most suckler units, Dalrachie is home to a mixed spring and autumn calving herd of Simmental cross cows, with 70 calving from the end of February through to May, while 50 calve down from September until November. This not only produces a more regular cash flow throughout the year, but also spreads the work load and that of the bulls, thereby enabling the two stock Charolais bulls to cover virtually all the cows.

It’s a policy which appears to be bearing fruit not only for the business but also the bulls which, with regular work last for a good five or six seasons, which again helps to curtail costs.

Cows at Dalrachie also have to work, as both the autumn and spring calvers have to rough it for as long as possible on the hill after speaning.

Autumn calvers generally come inside to straw-bedded courts from the end of October to a diet of silage and locally produced draff, with spring calvers outwintered on much the same diet until the end of December for calving in February, March, April.

Calves are introduced to creep feed a month before they are due to be speaned and are fed thereafter inside on straw-bedded courts at the neighouring 170-acre Rinnachat, which is taken on a seasonal let basis, until they are sold.

Outwith this lease, input costs – with the exception of bought in straw at £16 per bale – are relatively low with no diet feeder or straw chopper to bed straw courts, and all silage and barley is grown on farm.

Most years, some 20-30 acres of barley are grown for home-produced feed and straw, with a further 1000 plus bales of straw also having to be purchased and transported home.

Surrounded by distilleries, the family is also able to take advantage of the amount of by-products produced, but even then draff prices have risen to £25 per tonne – up £10 on the year.

Helping to balance up the books, Sarah Jane who works full time at the local Knockando Wool Mill, as an accounts production co-ordinator, and Alan have introduced a flock of 320 hill-type North Country Cheviot ewes, of which the vast majority are crossed to a traditional-type Bluefaced Leicester to breed Cheviot Mules, while the remaining 50 – Achentoul bred ewes are kept pure. The sheep are also help to improve grassland swards.

"There is no doubt you get better utilisation of grass when you have sheep and cattle," said Willie, who is contemplating retirement.

However, while the sheep undoubtedly contribute to the health and well-being of the business, there is only one enterprise for the boys at Dalrachie, and that's breeding superior quality Charolais calves.

"I really don't think we could make any more money using other breeds or crosses," concluded Alan, who remains so enthusiastic in the big white French breed that he's a regular to the Bull Sales at Stirling – and often at the end of a halter assisting many of the top breeders with their bulls.