It was a relief that the Stirling Bull Sales went ahead without a hitch – with great credit due to the auctioneering companies.

For the first time in decades, I didn’t attend. The excellent coverage through the internet softened the blow.

Trade for all breeds was good, with most bulls finding a buyer, but it always surprises me when I see bulls failing to meet the upset price. Surely even the least optimistic seller could set a modest reserve to give the auctioneer something to work with.

Often buyers feel ashamed to bid when the price is rock bottom, but after a few bids up to the reserve, they take a second look. If, after that, the bull is still unsold, when a potential customer comes to see him back in the pen the seller can start negotiations from a realistic level.

Santa came late this year and delivered an extra special edition of the Limousin Annual Journal a few weeks ago. It was beautifully produced, contained a load of good articles and had much relevant technical information.

I noticed that, although sometimes veiled, five successful pedigree breeders expressed concern that in the headlong rush to breed extra muscular animals for the primestock show ring, easy care and maternal characteristics were being lost.

In his excellent article in The Scottish Farmer, without specifying the breed, Alasdair MacNab expressed the same worries rather more robustly.

Our own Limousin herd is numerically small, so many of our calves are conceived though AI using the most popular sires. They are certainly not easily calved and the daughters, particularly as heifers, are often short of milk.

The commercial farmer requires genetics that solve problems and add value. Success is in satisfying that need to mutual advantage.

The Aberdeen-Angus experience of half a century ago hints that if Limousin breeders don’t find a solution to today’s reduced labour situation, others will.

Alasdair worried too about the effect of the myostatin gene on maternal characteristics. Our experience with our Aberdeen-Angus is that it had not had any noticeable effect.

Buyers seem to like the bulls which carried a single copy of the gene as it gave their calves more shape, so originally I was against discriminating against it.

The myostatin gene does have an effect on calving difficulty and it always reduces marbling in the meat.

Our continental Angus pedigree buyers don’t allow it, the Americans don’t want it as their beef is graded on marbling and those Down Under need heavy marbling for the high value Japanese market – so now I am slowly changing my mind.

Although the virtues of the gene are visually obvious in the live animal, there are underlying concerns.

It may suit the EUROP grading system but, if we want to claim our beef is superior on the table, measurement and grading for marbling will be necessary in the future.

In his article, Alasdair mentioned the flushing of ‘top’ ewes which had lost their udders, which, he argued, might result in the concentration of bloodlines that are susceptible to mastitis.

The Texel breed has a real problem with mastitis which, in fairness, it has addressed with, in my view, a doubtful conclusion.

Our experience is that the new vaccination for mastitis has, albeit at considerable expense, in part helped to reduce the problem but, I stress, only in part.

At least an equal challenge for the breed is a reduction in difficult lambings. Flushing ewes and implanting a single embryo into roomy and heavy milking cross bred recipients is being used as a means to produce the massive ram lambs which make top prices at breed sales.

Many of these lambs which, if born naturally to their genetic dams would require Caesarean section, are the result of generation after generation of embryo transfer.

This is the ‘nurse cow’ syndrome which had such a disastrous effect on our cattle breeds all over again.

Over the past few months much has been written about showmanship and I have enjoyed Andy Frazier’s podcast about old time breeders and those who looked after their stock.

Nothing is more responsible for ‘the good old days’ than a bad memory and we shouldn’t forget that some of these men drove their respective breeds into near extinction.

Profit was seldom a prime objective and the home producer was sacrificed on the altar of the golden export deal. This happened to our native breeds after the Second World War and for most of my working life breeders have been trying to regain the market.

See-saw genetics use up a human lifetime and often require solutions which are radical. In my early career as a pedigree Aberdeen-Angus breeder, the only criterion of excellence was increased frame size which we measured with a horse measuring stick.

The market had changed in a few years from when the price of a bull could buy a farm, to one where native bred bulls had difficulty in finding a buyer. It is important not to lose the lesson.

At home, our first two pens of bulls have finished their feed efficiency test. It is interesting to compare the results of the different sires and also to compare our own results with those in North America.

As predicted the more feed efficient bulls couldn’t be picked by eye. An unforeseen benefit of the test was that we were alerted if a bull stops feeding.

North American information shows that this can happen for as many as four days before an animal shows visual signs of illness, such as sweating, panting, or a dropped lug.

Apart from delays at ports, which everyone except the Government foresaw, Brexit is progressing, spring is at hand and solutions to Covid-19 are progressing well.

As I peer through the gloom, I recall a pre-match team talk by an Irish rugby captain of yesteryear which may be apt and appropriate: “I tink a subtle mix of runnin’, jinkin’ and kickin’ should work out fine.”