CHAROLAIS cattle are well-known for their weight gain attributes, but while they have the ability to produce the heaviest carcases, they can also be finished easily at the lighter end of the scale.

It's this phenomenal potential daily liveweight gain that ensures the Charolais retains its place in the league table of terminal sire breeds - regardless of what system is employed - according to commercial producer, Robert Dalrymple.

"Charolais have the ability to finish in the fastest timeframe and at all weights just by tweaking feed rations, so the future of the breed is brighter than ever when margins are cut to the bone," said Robert, who farms 1000acres with his wife, Caroline, at Crailoch and Kings Arms Farms, Ballantrae.

"We have always looked to produce the best quality beef cattle and, for us, nothing comes close to the Charolais, purely because when you're selling suckled calves as we are, you are paid on weight.

"Charolais not only grow the fastest, they also produce the most uniform calves that are easily batched and are in demand by finishers," added Robert.

Confirmation of these statements is in the last lot of Charolais cross calves sold at United Auctions, Stirling, where the business sold no fewer than 23, 8.5 to 10-month-old bullocks to a top of £1000 on two occasions, for batches of 386kg and 401kg calves, to average 243p per kg at 399kg. And, the 10 heifers sold the same day last month cashed in at 230p per kg at 387kg.

While these values were down on the year, the 2015 event had the business' best ever trade with stots cashing in at 263p per kg and heifers at 240p at the same age.

Such are the returns from their Charolais cross calves, that this upland unit - which is home to 200 Limousin and Angus cross suckler cows bred from the dairy herd - calves all heifers and cows to a Charolais.

Replacement heifers are bought privately from the neighbouring dairy farm at Laggan and join the main herd when calving at 2.5 years.

"We have calved heifers to a Limousin in the past, purely as a precaution, but they were no easier calved to a Limousin than a Charolais and they never grew as fast as our Charolais," said Robert, who relies upon farm manager, Andrew MacLean and stockman, Andrew Nutt, for the day-to-day running of the livestock.

Like the best of stockmen, the team aim to buy big long, shapey stock bulls that are good on their legs. Breeding suckled calves, they also consider 200-day weights and calving values of potential stock bulls. However, these factors are considered to a lesser extent, in comparison to how an individual bull appears and how it walks.

"The way forward is probably looking at figures, but we've bought recorded and unrecorded bulls in the past and there has been no difference in their calving ease or the growth rates of the progeny," said Robert, a former The Scottish Farmer 'Sheep Farmer of the Year'.

One of the best bulls ever purchased was Corcreevy Dingle - the oldest in the pack at present which is still going strong at eight years of age with six home-bred sons retained for breeding.

With just 18 barren cows this year, it's fair to say that there were few if any calving problems last year, too, with all calving within a nine-week period from the middle of March onwards, inside on straw-bedded courts.

Until then, they are wintered inside on slats from the end of October/November - depending on the weather - when they have access to a TMR silage/straw mix with a Harbro pre-easy calving minerals.

Such is the Dalrymples' enthusiasm for the breed, that a few pedigree females were purchased around the millennium, to breed a few home-bred bulls for their own use, with the result, the farm is now also home to 25 pure-bred Charolais and followers.

Initially, this herd was founded on three females bought privately from Jim Neil, Boreland of Balmaghie, Castle Douglas. The only other two female purchases include in-calf Gretnahouse heifers from Alasdair Houston. These were bought privately, due to Wesley Equinox, in 2012, to introduce some new blood to the herd.

Now, however, this pure-bred enterprise is providing a valuable source of home-bred bulls both to use at home and to sell privately, which is not only helping reduce input costs but also boost margins in an era of ever declining returns.

It's a sad fact that has been ongoing on all farms in recent years and at Crailoch it has resulted in the business employing just two full-time farm employees instead of three as in previous years.

But then it is hardly surprising given the fall in commodity prices in all sectors.

You only have to look at the Dalrymples' 1400-ewe early lambing flock, which produces finished lambs at the end of May.

In 2014, these sold to a top of £105 - the same price achieved for early finished lambs some 20 years ago! Last year, the trade fell by 25%, which was in line with the general fall in livestock prices.

"Farming is going backwards. We're getting the same price we used to get years ago for most things but, at the same time, input costs have risen dramatically.

"Being intensively farmed, our Single Farm Payment will also be miles down. We are being constantly told to tighten our belts but we've been doing that for years. It gets to such a stage we can't tighten it anymore."

But on a more positive note, Robert has been able to diversify into luxury holiday cottages and, with the help of an SRDP grant, there are now seven cottages which run alongside the family's farming business.

There can be no disputing the fact farming faces an uphill struggle in the next few years, but, for Robert, the future of the Charolais is all positive.

"The Charolais has always been the main breed for producing the best beef cattle. The fall in the carcase spec' weights suits me perfectly as the Charolais is the most efficient converter of feed and, therefore, the breed which responds most to feeding at all stages of growth," concluded Robert.