Obituary: Ron McHattie

Born: 24 August, 1953, Forres. Died: 3 September, 2015, Lochussie. Aged 61.

Transformer of the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society. Picture: Contributed
Transformer of the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society. Picture: Contributed

Working as a chief executive of a cattle breeding society is far from being a sinecure – some would say it is as far divorced as it is possible to be from such a position. The problem for the person holding such a post is they are the focus of all the complaints and concerns of the membership and, as part of their DNA, pedigree livestock breeders can be extremely focussed. And yet for the past 18 years, Ron McHattie not only held the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society together, he also transformed it into a progressive and forward-looking organisation.

The native Aberdeen-Angus hit the headlines in the post-Second World War years with buyers coming from both North and South America to scoop up the best bloodlines of this traditional native breed. However, its popularity slumped with the arrival on these shores of bigger-framed Continental breeds. To regain their position in the market, Aberdeen-Angus breeders had to put more scale into their animals without losing the natural attributes of the breed.

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This long process was well under way when McHattie was appointed as the first chief executive of the breed society in 1988, but, in his own quiet, tenacious way, he ensured progress on the breeding front was also linked to commercial benefits. He was instrumental in developing a close relationship with leading retailers and the meat trade. This has been key to the breed’s expansion and the premium prices now being secured for Aberdeen-Angus and Aberdeen-Angus cross cattle in the marketplace.

He was also passionate about maintaining the integrity of the Aberdeen-Angus brand. This saw the society introduce a ground-breaking tissue sampling programme last year to validate the pedigrees of Aberdeen-Angus cattle and ensure the authenticity of beef sold as Aberdeen-Angus.

The society was also the first in the UK to adopt a performance recording system from Australia. These moves in restoring the breed’s pre-eminent position in the beef industry resulted in annual registrations in the Herd Book more than doubling to a record 14,732 calves last year.

Financially, under his stewardship, the society’s reserves increased five-fold to more than £2.4 million and in numerical terms, Aberdeen-Angus cattle are now the second most important in the UK in terms of beef breed sired calves registered with the British Cattle Movement Service.

Aberdeen-Angus cattle feature highly in all the main beef producing countries in the world and McHattie travelled widely in his role as chief executive. He attended Aberdeen-Angus World Forums in Australia, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand. In addition to representing the society on the board of the World Aberdeen-Angus Secretariat, he was heavily involved in the planning of the next World Forum in 2017, which will be held in this country for the first time since 1977.

Current president, David Evans, said of McHattie: “He played a huge and influential role in the phenomenal development and expansion of the Aberdeen-Angus breed in the UK and Ireland over the past 18 years and his wise counsel will be greatly missed.”

McHattie’s death came only a month before his planned early retirement. In spite of recent health issues, he had continued to be actively involved in the running of the society, including attending a meeting of the society’s council at the end of August and thereafter conducting business from his home.

A tenant farmer’s son from Forres, Moray, after graduating from the East of Scotland College of Agriculture, he spent the early part of his career working with a dairy herd at Moffat and as a working farm manager on farms at Galashiels and North Fife.

He then moved north to Brahan Farms, Conon Bridge, where he managed a large-scale suckler and beef finishing enterprise on 1,000 hectares before moving to the co-operative development organisation, SAOS, as a project manager. There he gained considerable experience in the marketing of agricultural products, supply chain management and identification of appropriate marketing structures – knowledge that came to the fore later in his career.

When he was appointed chief executive, he was given the remit to improve and further develop all aspects of the society’s business and maximise the commercial opportunities for Aberdeen-Angus cattle.

“These aspirations have certainly been achieved and the success of the breed under Ron’s stewardship has exceeded all expectations,” said Mr Evans.

McHattie leaves behind his wife, Christine, daughter, Laura, and son, Frazer.