A Day of Contemplation and Celebration for the Dispersal Sale of The Famous Gretnahouse Charolais Herd
Written by Barbara Huddart, Glendale PR.
The Dispersal Sale of the remarkable Gretnahouse Herd at Borderway, Carlisle, on Saturday 18th November will be a landmark event in the history of the British Charolais. Breeders are invited from all over the UK and Ireland to support the sale of some of the most influential and admired Charolais genetics in the national herd book. The sale will be livestreamed and open to bidding from far beyond Harrison & Hetherington’s Borderway ring through MartEye.
For many Charolais Society members and livestock breeders, this sale will be a tribute to and celebration of the life and achievements of the late Alasdair Houston. A past Chairman of the British Charolais Society among many other distinctions, Alasdair took over the Gretnahouse Herd from his father Adair in 1985 and made it one of the powerhouses of the breed’s development in the UK.
Devastated by the cull of the entire herd during the outbreak of Foot & Mouth in 2001, Alasdair rebuilt the Gretnahouse prefix with embryo transfer and some of the best genetics from fellow breeders, to reestablish Gretnahouse at the top of the Charolais tree within just 10 years.
The sale will give breeders a unique opportunity to acquire the best of the Gretnahouse genetics that has produced some of the UK’s most outstanding pedigree and commercial Charolais stock, including two bulls achieving 25,000gns at national sales.
Ben Harman, noted Charolais breeder and great friend of Alasdair stresses that the sale of the Gretnahouse stock represents a unique opportunity to tap into both genetics and ethos. “Alasdair Houston poured passion, energy, and meticulous research into creating one of the most successful herds of any era of the British Charolais breed. The Gretnahouse cows have consistently produced bulls sought after by pedigree and commercial buyers alike, and this sale represents a unique chance to buy into the success and intellect of one of the greatest cattle breeders of our time.”
Gretnahouse stock bull, Lochend Nighthawk, will clearly be a highlight of the sale, together with 30 Spring calving cows and calves and 9 Autumn calved cows with 10 calves at foot. The sale will also include 9 in-calf heifers, 2 Autumn in-calf heifers, 11 Spring 2022 born heifers and 11 Autumn 2022 born heifers.
The BCCS will produce full breeding and EBV graphs for all the Charolais in the Gretnahouse sale, underlining the commitment that Alasdair Houston made to breeding for commercial performance as well as for pedigree excellence.
For Joe Speak, who has been responsible for the herd since Alasdair’s death in June 2021, that dual commitment is the key to the Gretnahouse reputation. “It has been a privilege and an honour to pick up the mantel from Alasdair and to be able to carry on the years of hard work which have been so carefully invested into the cattle. I will always remember his advice regarding the importance of data-driven knowledge alongside pedigree and the stockman’s eye. Those principles have been maintained during my time at Gretna House. The main focus has always been ease of calving, and general performance with a strong influence on performance traits to keep the herd in the top percentiles of the breeds. Anything which has struggled we have cut out and we have reached a point where the herd is comprised of functional, easy calving and good milking cattle able to rear a strong calf. This Spring we calved at 100%, with minimal issues and exceptional quality.”
Sales figures confirm the Gretnahouse appeal to breeders and buyers looking for the best genetics. “We had reserve senior male champion at the Stirling Bull sales in February 2022, where our two bulls averaged 14,000 guineas, and in October 2022 we had 100% clearance with our nine bulls selling to an average of £7,000 and a top price of £10,000.”
And Joe has continued to buy in genetic excellence to build on breeding development. “We purchased the Overall Champion, Glenericht Superb from the October Bull Sales last year for £20,000. His first calves, a promising line-up of both heifer and bull calves are available to be purchased through some of the Autumn cows being sold with calves at foot, and he is one of the service sires for the Spring calving cows.”
Before his death in 2021, Alasdair Houston was presented with the prestigious Sir William Young Award for his contribution to cattle breeding by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS), recognising his outstanding contribution to livestock breeding.
BCCS Chairman Andrew Sellick says that he brought all the same drive and passion for improvement to the Society itself. “As our Chairman, Alasdair modernised our constitution and our mission to improve the breed to its current position at the top of the performance measurements, and he helped establish a youth programme which will ensure the Society thrives in years to come.”
For Lucy, Tara, and Rafe, the sale brings an end to an extraordinary story, but the value and the reputation of the Gretnahouse genetics will now live on in other herds.
“My decision to disperse the Gretnahouse herd has been very emotional and difficult. Alasdair’s passion and drive in all he did was reflected in the achievements, not only of his beloved Charolais which his father Adair started as one of the original importers, but also with Simmentals and then with the Aberdeen Angus herd,” says Lucy Houston. “He talked about cattle breeding being a drug for him, and having seen first-hand that love affair he had for his animals I can vouch for that. Tara, Rafe, and I take comfort knowing that the genetics that he so carefully selected will move into herds right across the country.”
Pre-sale inspection of the herd is welcome by appointment. Please call Joe Speak on 07469 70488 or email – Gretna.email@example.com