There can be no doubting the uncertainty that has prevailed over farming since Britain made the historic vote to leave the EU, but while huge changes are afoot, there is one policy the Barbours, will not be altering – their reliance on the Aberdeen-Angus breed.
It’s the all-black’s ease of fleshing and management characteristics that Robert Barbour and sons, Graham and Scott, from Crailinghall, Jedburgh, believe will see them through the difficulties that undoubtedly lie ahead. 
Add to that the breed’s reputation for producing some of the best beef in the world and the premium prices it attracts, and the fact that the family farms a large, virtually self-sufficient unit in the Borders, just outside Jedburgh, and the business should stand in good stead for the future.
But, with 2300 acres split between several units, of which 1500 acres are ploughable; and 640 Aberdeen-Angus cows, of which (outwith replacement heifers), all progeny are finished, it is a big undertaking.
“I’ve always been into Aberdeen-Angus cattle, purely for their ease of fleshing characteristics and because the breed is the top selling beef brand,” said Robert, who left the family unit at Auchengibbert, in 1972, to run a pedigree Ayrshire dairy herd at Dundrennan in the South-west with his wife, Beryl, for almost 20 years. They moved to Crailinghall in 1992.
“We were one of the first farms to sign up to the Marks and Spencers Select Aberdeen-Angus Beef Scheme in 1997 and there has been a premium for the beef ever since, although it does vary from 5-20p per deadweight kg depending on supplies,” added Robert.
Just as importantly, sons Graham and Scott are equally enthusiastic about the breed.
“The Aberdeen-Angus suits our system purely because it has the ease of fleshing and it attracts a premium in the market place,” said Graham. “We have tried a few other breeds but none of them finish as well as the Angus and we can keep all our own home-bred replacements from the herd.”
Most years the best 120 heifers are retained, which are bulled at 15 months to calve at two years of age, from the end of March onwards over three cycles. 
As a result, no fewer than 700 head of cattle are pregnancy scanned – all in one day – which last year saw 70% calve in the first three weeks, with just two requiring veterinary assistance, of which one was for a caesarian. 
This year, only 6% of the 700 head scanned yeld, with the biggest percentage being amongst the heifers. All barren cattle are fattened and sold down the road – there are no second chances.
“By culling all empty cows and heifers every year, we’ve improved the health and the fertility of the overall herd as the number of cows coming back empty is a lot lower than it used to be,” said Graham.
It’s policy which is obviously bearing fruit as the majority of females produce nine calves and are all culled at 10 years of age – and these cows are still ‘worth a pound or two’, when finished.
Having built up the herd over the years purely by retaining Angus cross females as replacements, with the odd Hereford bull occasionally thrown in to introduce a touch of hybrid vigour, the herd is virtually pure. Two-thirds of the cows, including first and second calvers are bulled to an Angus, with the bottom end going to a Charolais. 
This means there are at least 19 bulls on the farm. These have been bought privately mostly at two years old to enable them to mature naturally before going out to work. As a result, most last until eight/nine years of age when they are then culled. 
In recent years, Angus bulls have been purchased from the Blackhaugh, Cardona, Fordel and Tofts herds, with Charolais acquired from Kerseknowe and Thrunton.
“We look to buy easy fleshing bulls with good tops and shape and bulls that are not too big,” said Robert, who is a former SAYFC Stockman of the Year. 
“We don’t want to breed cows that are too big or too extreme and they have got to have good feet and legs and temperament as we are very strict on the three T’s – Temperament, Tits and Toes! Anything that causes problems goes down the road.”
The boys do glance over EBV figures, but they are more concerned about the shape and fleshing ability of the animal. They also insist any private purchase is semen tested by the breeder before it is bought too.
With the farms extending to in excess of 2300 acres and with numerous fields, bulls are run at 1:40 cows. 
As most of the cows hold to first service, the first three weeks of calving is extremely busy and last year saw some days of up to 30+ cows calving per day. 
All are calved in various sheds on straw bedded courts on three separate units. Once calved, the cow and it’s new born are moved to an individual pen, with all calves tagged, dehorned and Angus bull calves castrated, before going out to grass as soon as possible. Charolais bull calves are kept entire.
The youngest females are kept separate, too, with first calvers and their new born kept in the best grass fields and second calvers and their offspring others. Cows with Charolais bull calves are obviously kept in different fields too, with others put out to various fields as they calve. 
The sires of all calves are recorded too so there is never any risk of cows or heifers being bulled by their sires.
Creep feeding is introduced to the calves eight weeks prior housing mid-November, with all calves vaccinated for pneumonia two weeks before. All weaning is done at housing into straw bedded courts.
All Angus steers and heifers not retained for breeding are finished at 18-23 months at 380kg and 340kg, respectively, with the Charolais cross heifers finished during a similar period slightly heavier at 360kg. Charolais bulls are finished at 380+kg at 14-16months. This produces a fairly constant supply of finished cattle throughout the year, which with the vast majority sold through Scotbeef, sees the Barbours transport up to 18 head of finished cattle up to the Bridge of Allan meat plant on a weekly basis, with harvest time being the only exception. Bulls produce U carcase grades with the steers and the heifers mostly killing out with R classifications.
With all progeny either retained for breeding or finished, cattle numbers can be up to 2000 head at the busiest times, but the family is fortunate in that they can grow all their own feed with the exception of minerals and dark grains and cobs for when cows are turned out to grass in the spring. 
With many mouths to feed and acres to cover, the traditional tenancy unit at Crailinghall coupled with other owned and rented units, is a busy place and relies on assistance from stockmen, Alistair Scott, Ben Martin and Bert Scott, while tractormen, Brian Hope and Sandy Whitehead, help out with the cropping work.
And, with 800 acres of arable ground, it also means huge expenditure on machinery to keep all work in house. Most years winter feed barley yields 3.5 tonnes per acre; winter wheat at 4.0 tonnes/acre and all spring barley, grown for malting, yields 3.0 tonnes. 
Some 8000 big rectangular bales of straw are required for bedding every year too – a figure which also necessitates straw to be baled locally.
On a more positive note, with the farm having GPS mapped its fields for lime, P and K, for the past eight years, not only are crop yields more level throughout, fertiliser costs have also been reduced.
Scott said: “We used to apply flat rates of fertiliser, but since we started GPS mapping and analysing the dung to be spread, we have definitely cut our fertiliser bill and crop yields are slightly higher.”
The boys also aim to produce the best quality pit silage possible to reduce the amount of dark grains that have to be bought. However, living in a relatively dry area, which in recent years has seen average rainfall of 26-28 inches, means that only one large cut is taken, often just before the Royal Highland Show. Silage is regularly analysed and diets made up accordingly with home-grown bruised barley, dark grains and minerals.
With such a large arable and cattle enterprise, Crailinghall is a busy place at all times of the year. The good news is there appears to be a third generation of Barbours keen to take over the reins, albeit early days yet. 
Graham and his wife Katrina, daughter Anna (13) and son Tom (10) and Scott and his wife Sarah and their young family of Archie (12), Angus (9) and Hamish (7) are all showing enthusiasm. We just have to hope there is a farming industry for them to continue…