A mating predictor programme is proving invaluable for Perthshire Charolais breeder, Major David Walter from Balthayock, who has sold numerous five-figure priced bulls.

And, having just forked out £15,000 to buy the young bull, Elrick Paragon, privately from Mike Massive, he is hoping to sell a few more.

When the bull arrived at Balthayock, Major Walter said how pleased they all were in the way he had grown since they first saw him. “He has great length, good muscling, a fine head and a great temperament… but only time will tell if he meets our high expectations when his first sons enter the sale ring in three years’ time.”

“Paragon joins the farm’s other new purchase of a half share with the Smeaton’s of Maerdy Osgood. Both bulls share Massie, Evans and French bloodlines so will bring something a little different to our herd. We’ve always used the mating predictor program to plan our breeding and it’s proved invaluable. Our policy is to avoid any inbreeding beyond 7%, so we’ve been on the lookout for some new bloodlines for a year or so.”

Paragon has incomplete EBVs but his raw data of more than 800kg when last weighed, and scrotal circumference of 39cms would give him terminal and replacement EBVs in the low 60s which will blend in nicely with some of our home grown bulls such as Impression and his son Nevada which are all in the top 1% of the breed. Gouverneur’s calves in three herds have all had low birth weights with is an added attraction.

“There’s a direct correlation between scrotal circumference and fertility,” he says, “and at 39cms he’s well above average for his age.”

Major Walter is all too aware that this young bull still has everything to prove, but hopes he was the early bird that caught the worm, buying the bull before he was put in the sale ring.

“You have to be prepared to spend to find a great herd sire,” he says. “Yes, it’s high risk because you don’t know what you have, but you must invest in the future or you don’t make any progress.”

He’s very enthusiastic and supportive of Breedplan, and as a Charolais breeder for the past 50 years, is keen to do all he can to improve the national herd as well as his own animals.

Balthayock is 1600 acres, mostly grass, and carries 115 pedigree Charolais cows and followers, plus 140 suckler cows which are a mixture of cross Simmental and Shorthorn. The heifers run with home bred Charolais bulls that they know offer easy calving. A flock of 700 Lleyn run with Texel tups to complete the livestock enterprise. The farm also grows oats and both spring and winter barley, all for its own use, selling any surplus.

“We use an Aitchison direct drill from New Zealand and add clover and good grass into the paddocks. We buy in a lot of straw as the animals are inside over the winter, well-bedded, and then spread this on the fields from spring. The dung adds P and K and the clover helps to fix N.”

After such a severe drought this spring the farm may have to reconsider its stocking rates, but the aim will still be to sell between 30 and 40 bulls a year through the national sales, and privately, plus some pedigree heifers, but the policy has always been to keep the cow herd young and benefit from the rapid genetic improvement that’s available.

Cattle are all housed in big open sheds, and around the turn of the year, bull calves are weaned from their mothers and put in pens of three with access to their own, separate, small paddocks controlled by electric fencing. The grass paddocks allow them to exercise and, as they grow at a fast rate, give them room to move about.

“There’s no double that the supermarkets and largely Irish-owned abattoirs are doing the suckler industry no favours,” says Major Walters.

“Beef from the dairy herd is a poor imitation of the wonderful beef we have traditionally produced in Scotland from grass-reared cattle of native breeds and also from continental breeds which, during the past 50 years have been introduced and modified to suit our environment and extensive system of beef production.

They are vital to the management of the 60% of our countryside which cannot grow arable crops and which would otherwise soon become an unsightly wilderness of scrub and bracken. What sort of effect is this going to have on our tourist industry?”

“At the same time arable farmers are finding that the organic content of their soil is fast disappearing. A simple way to put that right would be to fill their empty sheds over winter with store cattle and they would soon find that the resultant dung spread on their fields would transform the soil quality and might even earn them some extra Government support for their efforts.”

Maj Walters points out that a costing exercise in Northern Ireland by a cost accountancy firm nearly 20 years ago found that the annual cost of keeping a suckler cow was £800 and the breakeven price of its offspring was 480p per kg.

“As producers we used to be paid 55% of the retail price for fat cattle, now we’re lucky if we get 44%,” he says.

“I can’t help but think there is some conspiracy among the Irish abattoirs to promote the beef from Ireland to replace our quality Scottish beef from our herds and supply the supermarket’s less discerning customers with Holstein crosses.”

He finds it interesting to compare the Scottish industry with that in Norway. “The main difference there is that their Government appreciates the importance of maintaining the suckler herds and insured that the farmers are paid a price which leaves them a well-earned profit. The abattoirs are all owned co-operatively by farmers and the result is a price of at least £6.50 per kg or equivalent for both the breeder and feeder. I think we have much to learn from their system.”

He says that Charolais are “the most wonderful cattle to work with” and that now the breed has moved on from going for big backsides at the price of difficult calving, the Society is breeding cattle that calve easily with unbeatable liveweight gains, milk fertility and good temperament.

“After 50 years in the breed I still feel I have a lot to learn, but with the help of Breedplan I have seen huge improvements in the breed and I’m confident that we’ll soon reclaim the position of the breed as first choice in beef production.

“Over the years I have tried all the breeds, and I know from my own experience that nothing can compare with a Charolais as a terminal sire on a suckler herd. And, with their great character, they’re a joy to work with.”