Jim McConachie

A STALWART of the Highland cattle breed and a mentor to many, Jim McConachie, died suddenly shortly after attending the Oban Highland cattle sale in February. He was 78.

Born in Aberlour in 1939, he began farming with his father in the early 1950s in Dufftown before moving to Lethendry, in Cromdale, in 1955.

He started out on his own in 1963 at Knock of Auchnahannet, across the River Spey, on Seafield Estate. Then, in the early 1970s, the chance came along to take on the tenancy of neighbouring Culfoichmore.

That's where he started producing show calves with the use of Charolais bulls – a talent he would become well-known for – and in 1975 bred Kojak, the first cross calf to break the £500 price barrier at the Grantown calf sale run then by MacDonald Fraser.

Year-on-year Culfoich-bred calves were keenly sought by buyers all across the UK and again Culfoich calves were the first to break the £1000 and £1500 price mark at Grantown.

These went on to win many shows, including at the Highland, the Royal Smithfield and the Winter Fair. JR was a favourite and was shown by Jim's great friend and fellow stockman, Jimmy Martin, manager at Fraser Stock Ranches, who also did well with Monarch.

Another, Grant, was also shown to some success by with Claude Birrell at the Winter Fair. That event in 1987 saw Culfoich-bred calves standing champion and reserve – a feat that has not matched to this day.

Success at the Royal Smithfield Show, in London, came with the aptly named McConachie taking the reserve championship.

As the fashion for more extreme show calves emerged, he decided to try pedigree breeding and established a small Charolais herd. Success followed on, with championships at Thainstone – where the Princess Royal presented him with the trophy – and a heifer champion at Perth.

In 1990, Jim and his wife, Moira, moved into their new house on the farm and decided to buy their first Highland cow and calf from the dispersal of the Cardhu Distillery, nearby on the Spey.

He often recalled that there seemed to be a perfect match with Highlanders and whisky – as would be the case in years to come!.

As the fold developed, success came along with wins at Oban and at the Royal Highland. The Culfoich fold was also the UK 'Fold of the Year' in 2010 – a feat Jim, Moira and the family were very proud of.

Well-known stockman, Rich Thomson, who lived not far away, was very much a part of the fold and its management and to this day, he helps out with selection and preparation of animals for show and sale. Animals from the fold have been exported to France, Denmark and Germany, with animals going on to do well with their owners there too.

In 2013, he decided to re-establish the Culfoichmore Aberdeen-Angus herd and bought females from Cardona, Glenbuchat, Weeton and, latterly, Carlhurlie to set up a foundation herd. Sadly, he will not be here to see it develop.

Jim was a keen supporter of the local Grantown Show, where he exhibited livestock for 61 years and was on the management committee for more than 50 of those years. He became an honorary vice-president in 2014.

Jim enjoyed judging Highlanders and, indeed, all types of cattle, and was delighted to be asked to judge Highlanders at his favourite show, the Royal Highland, in 2016.

He enjoyed the social side of farming life. Smithfield kist parties were a must every year, as was the Highland Show and the twice yearly trips to Oban where many a long night and many a bottle of whisky were consumed with good friends.

Jim was a hard worker right up to the end and will be sadly missed by his family and the many good friends he found across the farming world.