Obituary: Donald Biggar,  prominent farmer awarded OBE for services to the livestock industry

Donald Biggar, farmer and cattle breeder. Born: 7 July, 1952 in Chapelton, Castle Douglas. Died: 31 January, 2021 in Chapelton, Castle Douglas, aged 68

Donald Biggar enjoyed a high reputation in the livestock world
Donald Biggar enjoyed a high reputation in the livestock world

Donald Biggar who died suddenly and unexpectedly, was prominent at the top end of many organisations in Scottish agriculture as well as being renowned as a world leader in cattle breeding.

His leadership was not marked by headline grabbing quotes and a barnstorming style. Instead, his defining characteristics included a calm and quiet determination on the preferred road ahead and a non-confrontational approach to progressing all he was involved in.

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Donald’s contributions were always considered and constructive and there was always purpose and resolve in his work.

As chairman of Scotland’s red meat promotional body, Quality Meat Scotland, he helped steer a steady course and fought to help Scotland regain millions of pounds of livestock levies which were being lost to English and Welsh abattoirs.

The 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic saw Donald’s renowned and valuable Beef Shorthorn and Galloway herds culled as part of the drastic control methods which saw eight million animals slaughtered in the UK to control the virus.

He witnessed the destruction of irreplaceable bloodlines and pedigrees that went back generations; surely the worst experience possible for any devoted livestock producer.

He was born and brought up on the family farms at Chapelton Castle Douglas; the sixth generation of the Biggar family to do so where his forefathers had built up an enviable reputation for breeding top pedigree stock.

After schooling at Merchiston Castle followed by study at the then East of Scotland Agricultural College, Edinburgh, he went back to both organisations in adulthood. The first as a Governor; the latter as a Board Member and then as vice chairman.

As a young man, he worked on the farm quietly developing the skills required to operate a successful farming and breeding business. During this time, he also travelled across the world looking after some of the highly prized Chapelton Shorthorn cattle, then being exported.

Later in life, he was to return to some of these countries with judging responsibilities at top livestock shows in Zimbabwe, Australia and Canada.

His skills and abilities in judging pedigree livestock first shone when he was a member of the successful Young Farmers stock judging team from Dumfries and Galloway at the 1970 Highland Show. This competition is often seen as an early marker for many of Scotland’s top livestock breeders.

Donald’s judging prowess was backed up with success with cattle in both the show and sale rings. In the former, one highlight was winning the beef interbreed championship at the Royal Show with an imported Hereford bull. Simultaneously holding record prices for both Shorthorn bulls and females was another.

Inevitably, he was drawn into farming politics. He was a lifelong member of NFU Scotland’s Stewartry branch. This was followed by a four decades long spell as a member of the branch’s executive and then as Area President for Dumfries and Galloway in 1996/97.

In this latter role, he was on the front line when beef producers from all over Scotland converged on Stranraer to prevent Irish beef being brought into Scotland, thus undercutting the local trade. As the Scottish protestors gathered, tempers were raised with some of the hot heads gathered on the quayside intent on throwing Irish beef into the harbour.

Local NFUS Secretary, Michael Coutts recalls Donald’s calming influence at the time saying, “He was the voice of reason and diplomacy when feelings and tempers were high,” thus preventing an escalation in the dispute.

As the local Union secretary, Michael also saw Donald’s control of meetings and has observed, “His skills at chairing a meeting were legendary and his ability to let all have their say, sum up the whole discussion and arrive at a decision were a joy to behold.”

These diplomacy and leadership skills were picked up by other organisations and he was invited to join the Board of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) in 2006.

He was Vice Chairman throughout SAC’s merger process with the local agricultural colleges of Barony, Elmwood and Oatridge. Despite the considerable emotion and baggage such a link up generated, Donald helped ensure the amalgamation was successful with the negotiations leading to the formation of SRUC – Scotland’s Rural College – in 2012.

With a high reputation in the livestock world, he became Chairman of the Royal Smithfield Club which hosted the prestigious Smithfield Show annually in the centre of London. To his disappointment, the raw economics of holding a major agricultural show in the centre of a large urban conurbation saw it move away from London in 2005.

He also served on the Board of the Moredun Research Institute, an organisation with a worldwide reputation in animal health. Donald served as a board member on WCF (formerly West Cumberland Farmers) for over 30 years and latterly as Chairman.

In 2004, he richly deserved the OBE he was awarded in recognition of his services to the livestock industry. He followed his father’s footsteps in gaining this recognition.

Despite the loss of valuable bloodlines in the foot-and-mouth cull, Donald stepped back into the pedigree world establishing both Shorthorn and Aberdeen Angus herds in 2001. While the day-to-day management of the farms moved to the next generation, Donald kept a close eye on how they – both family and cattle – were performing and took a particular delight in seeing Chapelton cattle, once again, at the top end of sales.

His local contribution to the livestock sector saw him provide knowledgeable ringside commentaries on the livestock being exhibited at both Dumfries and Stewartry agricultural shows.

As a young man, he met and married Emma, the daughter of a Dumfries doctor and together they raised their family, Jamie, Rachel and Duncan.

Although public work cut heavily into his time, he enjoyed the attractions of the Scottish countryside with particular emphasis on fishing and ornithology.

Acknowledging Donald’s importance to Scottish farming, former NFUS president, Andrew McCornick stated, “There can be no doubt that the news of Donald’s death has left a huge hole in the industry. There are few people who will have contributed more to Scottish farming at a local, regional or national level.”

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