WHEN Alasdair and Gill Macnab purchased their first pedigree Limousin embryos in 2002, little did they know that two years later their first ever bull would stand overall champion at Perth Bull Sales and sell for 9000gns – then 14 years on, top the breed sale at 28,000gns at Carlisle, last May.

The husband and wife team, who are based in the north of the country at Kildun, on the outskirts of Dingwall, near Dingwall Mart, purchased the 150-acre unit, in 2004, from Alasdair’s parents.
“I was one of five, but was the only one willing to take the business further. From a young age all I wanted to be was a farmer,” said Alasdair, commenting that he was often found helping at his uncle’s farm, Humberston, where Dingwall Mart now stands.
It was a circuitous route that led Alasdair into full-time farming, though. After school he qualified as a vet, working at the Dingwall practice for 11 years, before becoming a Government vet for a further 25 years. Now, he runs his own veterinary and risk management consultancy business – AJM Agri Ltd – which also involves helping new entrants within the industry.
He is the current chairman of RHET Highland, while Gill is kept busy, working full-time as a civil servant, as well as running the couple’s popular bed and breakfast enterprise. This year, she also holds the role as chairperson of the Scottish Limousin Club, having been secretary for the last two years.

The Scottish Farmer:

Some of the Alagils females    

Since the 1980s, the Limousin was the main sire used in the Kildun commercial suckler herd. By continual breeding, though, by the end of the 1990s the herd was almost pure.
It was Harry Coulthard, a pioneer of on-farm embryo transfer, who persuaded the couple to start their own pedigree herd in 2002.
“I was working as a senior vet in Newcastle, alongside Harry during the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak, and having made a few extra pennies, I was keen to invest in something. Harry introduced me to Stephen and Gill Potter, of the Westside herd. Before I knew it, I had purchased five embryos from their leading show cow, Broadmeadows Jiji, a daughter of the well-known Broadmeadows Cannon,” said Alasdair.
“Jiji was an exceptional cow and we were particularly impressed with her mother, Broadmeadows Didi, which was square all over, with plenty of milk,” Gill added.
The first flush from Jiji gave them three bulls and a heifer. In 2004, their first trip to Perth sales saw Alagils Umax, a Nestor son, stand overall champion and then go under the hammer for 9000gns. He had been breed champion at the Black Isle Show the same year.
“We couldn’t believe it. It really gave us the momentum to continue and we will always be grateful to the late Willie MacGillvary, of the Fleenasnagael herd, Nairn, and Douglas Crighton, of the Broadmeadows herd, who both gave us great encouragement and help,” said Alasdair.
In 2005, the second flush from Jiji produced four females – one of which was Alagils Ainsi, which has left a real stamp in the herd. She initiated their love for showing, as she was a successful winner, securing first prize tickets in 2006 at the Royal Highland as a heifer and reserve championships at local shows. In 2010, she returned to the showring, standing third at the Highland and securing three inter-breed championships at Nairn, Black Isle and Grantown.
Ainsi, which was mainly flushed to produce females for the herd today, also produced most of the herd’s top priced bulls. They have sold to 12,000gns and 7000gns at Carlisle.

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Alagils Jambon topped Carlisle’s May sale last year at 28,000gns

One of Ainsi’s daughters, Alagils Gillie, sired by Millgate Caesar, has bred the couple’s best bull price yet at 28,000gns. Alagils Jambon was sold at Carlisle, last May, and was among the first in the herd by the Cogent AI sire, Netherhall Gallant – one of the first sons of the 72,000gns Haltcliffe DJ to enter the AI stud world.
“The Limousin is a breed that will ensure a big premium in the store ring and produce vigorous calves which are easy calved. We aim to produce bulls that will calve easily for our customers and females with plenty size and shape and positive figures for milk with 200+ and 400+ day weights,” said Alasdair.  
Today, the pedigree herd numbers 24 cows, and is now totally closed, using either AI or home-bred bulls. They calve from late October to mid-January so that bulls fit into the right age gap of 17-19-months-old for selling.

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Bull calf Alagils Montecasino sired by Alagils Humberston        

Running a high health herd status and maintaining a Johnes risk 1 level for the last 13 years, the herd is now accredited for BVD and Leptospirosis.
Commercially, the Macnabs also run a herd of 20 cows which they stress is just as important as the pedigree herd. “We breed the commercials much the same as the pedigree girls. They’re used as a tester as we experiment with different AI bulls on them to see how the progeny turns out and to see if it works,” said Alasdair, pointing out that they retain most commercial females to use as ET recipients.
The commercial herd also helps cash flow when sold across the road at Dingwall Mart at between 10 and 12-months-old at around 420-450kg. The last three years stot calves have averaged £1080, while heifers have levelled at £980.
Alasdair and Gill sell the majority of their bulls at home and have a core of returning buyers, with one in particular having purchased as many as five and who usually goes on to top Dingwall’s store sale with cattle sired by Alagils-bred bulls.
Females spend the summer months on grass only and are wintered on straw, being fed ammonia-treated straw plus draff, a bruised barley supplement as required, and minerals.
Prior to calving and six weeks after they’ve calved, they receive a high protein supplement feed – Harbro’s ruminant green gold which helps to boost milk yields.
Both the pedigree and commercial cows are caught daily in locking head yokes and are familiar with visitors throughout the year which the couple add makes for a good temperament, allowing them to be easily handled. Bulls forward for sale or to be retained for the herd are reared on Harbro Beefstock and are then brought out on another Harbro feed – High Voltage Bloom.
“When it comes to producing bulls for sale, we aren’t all for the big prices. A good price is, of course, a bonus but we really aim to breed something that commercial buyers want,” Alasdair explained.
“On a point of principle, we don’t aim to bring bulls out in fat condition. We prefer to keep them as natural as possible and aim to have every bull semen tested before it leaves the farm to make sure it is fertile,” he added.
Big believers in EBVs, the couple look for strong maternal figures and good EBV performance figures when selecting bulls, but stress that they will never purchase semen without seeing a picture of the bull’s mother or seeing her in the flesh. As the majority of the Scottish suckler herd is based on Limousin, they believe that successful suckler cows need to have strong commercial characteristics. Bulls must have good length and, more importantly, a parallel back!
“EBVs are just another example of how farming is embracing technology. We feel if it’s there, use it,” said Alasdair, who quickly added in that the show ring is still important as it’s where you can stand and compare breeding and observe how correct a breeding line is.

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Retained home-bred bull Alagils Libor, which is now the herd’s junior stock bull

Future hopes are pinned on the next stock bull in the herd, Alagils Libor. He’s a son of Netherhall Gallant and out of an Alagils Ainsi – a daughter of Wilodge Enrico.
So, up for sale in a couple of weeks at Carlisle are two bulls, Alagils Lego by Nethergall Gallant and Alagils Logic, the first bull offered for sale by the herd’s junior stock bull, Alagils Humberston, while Alagils Lazer, another son of Gallant, heads to Stirling’s May sale.

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Alagils Lollipop, a daughter of Alagils Humberston, is forward for sale at Carlisle in May

After several years of building up pedigree knowledge from old stalwarts of the breed and focusing hard on female traits and characteristics, the Alagils herd has their first ever batch of heifers forward for sale at Carlisle, on Friday, May 5. On offer are four 18-month-old heifers, three by Alagils Humberston and one by Alagils Grammaticas.