Breeding trouble in our specialist livestock societies

Farming and work in ancillary trades has a reputation of providing permanence and stability for its workforce but this is not a universal observation as some occupations within the industry seem to be marked by conspicuous instability.

You would think being the secretary or general manager or chief executive of a breed society was a pretty cushy number.

Just remember the basics of the job. Ensure the members are happy. Keep the paperwork accurate and up to date and promote the merits of the breed of sheep or cattle that you represent.

That should be easy enough, especially if it is carried out in an easy going, ‘hail fellow, well met’ or ‘we are all in this together’ manner

But hardly a week goes by without a whisper of some fallout between the breed secretary, the chairman or some of the other high heid members within the breed. Schisms and splits can form faster in a breed society than an iceberg melting as a result of global warming.

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For those struggling to cope with that concept, just think of being the manager of a football club where a bad result or two can often lead to the issuing of a P45.

Sometimes the rift starts with no more than a whisper but on other occasions full blown differences of opinion are expressed round the sale ringside, with the target of the abuse often being marooned in the auctioneers’ rostrum.

Sometimes it can result in one or both parties going off “in the dorts,” never to return.

The issues that can cause a divide between pedigree breeders can range from the type of animal that is produced through to skin colour or in the case of sheep the preferred colour of dip.

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Sometimes the shape and positioning of the horns appear to take precedence over seemingly more important characteristics such as being able to walk properly.

I offer no comment on either side of the above as a wise old councillor once advised me not to comment on any planning issue in that hot bed of controversy, St Andrews, during my years as a local authority councillor.

“Whichever way you vote,” he said. “You will find that more than half the people will be against you.” His mathematics were off, but his judgement was spot on.

A most recent example of this type of falling out came recently with the resignation of Aberdeen Angus Breed Society president David Ismail, who farms a substantial herd of cattle at Fordel on the south side of Perth. He had been in post for only a matter of months.

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The announcement of Ismail’s departure was quickly followed by another indicating that the previous president, Co Tyrone farmer, Alan Cheney was being co-opted back onto the Society’s presidential team.

A commendably quick reaction, but where did that leave the Society’s chief executive, Barry Turner who was brought into the fold in 2018 to, in his own words “steady the ship” after the previous chief executive had fallen out of favour with the breed hierarchy. In Turner’s case, it appears he, or the breed society, had had enough.

This comment is not picking on the recent problems that have assailed the Aberdeen Angus society. Other breed societies such as the Limousins are doing their best to build up a reputation for internal wrangling and bloody coups.

Looking into the background of such squabbles and schisms, it is clear that some of it comes down to the fact that those who rise to the top of the tree are often focused and very successful businessmen and women that are used to getting their own way.

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Democracy may well be served by bringing in a new chairman every couple of years, but it does nothing for harmonious long-term relationships.

I have been involved in a number of ventures. I have also had a number of close escapes. One example of the latter came 20 or so years ago when I was asked to be the breed secretary for one of the beef cattle breeds then being imported from the Continent.

I do not know where the inspiration came from, but I did have the savvy to say NO in a loud voice and I am mighty glad I did so.

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