Morebattle Tofts

Messrs Playfair Farms. Tofts Aberdeen-Angus Herd.

Messrs Playfair Farms is a family farming partnership based at Morebattle Tofts, Kelso, in the Scottish Borders among the Cheviot Hills. The partners in the business are Patrick, James, Debbie and Robert Playfair-Hannay, with James being the fourth generation and Robert the fifth to farm here since 1897.

The business currently operates across four farms, with Morebattle Tofts comprising of 1350 acres of tenanted land, Clifton on Bowmont being 1250 acres of tenanted ground, Yetholm Mains being 1800 acres which is contract farmed and Burnbrae being a 350 acre tenanted farm in Fife.

Stocking across the farms includes 130 Aberdeen-Angus cows with 30 Aberdeen-Angus heifers, along with 75 Beef Shorthorn cows and 15 Beef Shorthorn heifers, with all heifers in these herds calved at two years old. A further 155 crossbred cows and heifers run alongside the pedigree herds, with these calving in at two years old too.

A total of 2125 breeding sheep are also run, comprising flocks of Hill North Country Cheviots, Easy Care and Bluefaced Leicester ewes. Arable cropping comprises 90 acres of winter barley, 300 acres of spring barley, 300 acres of winter wheat, 100 acres of winter oats, 90 acres of winter triticale grown for whole-crop silage, 60 acres of kale grown for winter forage and 50 acres of broccoli.

Farming amongst the Cheviot Hills gives the family some unique challenges, with dry free draining land in the valleys rising up 1000 feet-1300ft in an area of low rainfall where in a normal year we expect some 23 inches a year. This gives us a great opportunity to out winter all of our cows on a low cost system. But, in a dry year we often have to feed supplementary forage.

Since 1985 the business has gone through several changes and restructuring following expansion and payout of family members. While stock numbers are not high at present, further increases are ongoing with our targets nearer 500 cows plus followers and breeding ewe numbers growing to 3000 plus followers.

Tofts Aberdeen-Angus herd established in 1947 by R J (Hamish) Roberton, grandfather of James Playfair-Hannay. Foundation females came from Broadleys, Clashfarquar, Hyndsidehill, Heads, Lethen and Mungos. Today still in the herd are Polly Perkins and Polly Prides from Polly Perkins 4th of Clashfarquar, Evergay from Evergay of Broadleys and Princess from Princess Margaret of Charterhouse.

In its early years the herd bred Elite of Tofts which sold for a record price at St Boswells of 1800gns in 1955, to Sir Torquil Munro, Lindertis, where he was reserve champion at The Royal Highland Show and supreme champion at the Royal Show in England. He was then exported to Angus Valley Farms, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. He was followed across the Atlantic by Philanderer of Tofts, who was sold to T A Bradley and Dr W Johnson, Avon, Illinois, in 1959.

Interestingly both these two bulls appear on the back pedigree of SAV Solid Gold a Genus ABS sire currently being used in the UK. Philander’s maternal brother President of Tofts sold to New Zealand in 1962 where he was used in several herds, one of his sons was used in the world famous Kaharau stud. Further exports were made to West Germany in 1957, Colombia in 1960, Poland in 1961 and Russia in 1962, 1963 and 1966.

R J Roberton died in 1972 and his son in law Patrick Playfair took over the running of the herd. During his tenure the quest for size became the dominant thought in cattle breeding. Patrick introduced weight recording to the herd and James came home from college in 1979 and was given the job of managing the Tofts Aberdeen-Angus herd.

Discovering that selling small Angus cattle was difficult and after visiting the Angus World Forum in New Zealand in 1981 James took on a number of ideas and a modernisation programme was put in place. Canada was visited, with Canadian genetics being incorporated into the herd and new female lines were added from Birgham, Eastfield, Kinermony, Ty-Isha and Wilbar in Canada.

The families in the herd today include;
Delia came via Birgham from Southolm, Canada (Southolm Rose)
Estella from Ty-Isha
Eulima and Elluma from Kilham
Frances via Hardlawbank and Netherton from Cee Bar (Favorite)
Forever Lady from VDAR, USA
Jewel Erica via Cambusbarron from Newhouse
Kindness from Loxavon/Holm Eden
Lady Erica from M Double B, Canada
Lucy from Wilbar, Canada
Polly Perkins
Polly Pride
Prona from Kinermony
Erica Star via Wall from Geis, Canada
Tibbie via Heathlands from MVF, Canada

Influential sires used in the herd include, Stype Jemidar Eric, Portal of Haymount, Jubal Eric of Wych Cross, Proud Irwin of Westdrums, Prattle of Haymount, Wilbar Supreme, Wilmo Powehouse, Lord Horatio of Blelack, Jubiliant Eric of Burnside, Blelack Lord Hildalgo A234 and Rawburn Duke Windsor E440.

Meanwhile, current herd sires include, Chapelton Dark Middleton(DMM Essoteric x DMM Diamond Mist 8F), Tofts Foremost Lord (Ankonian Werner Wildfire x VDAR Forever Lady 9073), Tofts Time On (Carrington Park Time on x Tofts Tibbie L741) and Oakchurch Duke (Te Mania Berkley x Abberton Duchess).

Since 1980 further exports of both live animals and genetics (semen and embryos ) have been made to Brazil, Germany, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland.

Looking back through the herd records there has been much change to the beef industry through the years of the herd’s existence and the move to performance recording and the use of genomics and better health programmes has laid a great foundation for the future.

It is the family’s belief that to continue farming in this part of the world cows must be economical to keep, fertile to breed, structurally sound to last and above all else productive, rearing a calf every year for 10 years. To this end we have recently imported embryos from New Zealand’s oldest herd living in steep hill country using the Turihaua donor cows along with Te Mania herd sires. The first calves have now been weaned and will be on display during the World Angus Forum. They include heifer calves by Te Mania Quantum and Tuwharetoa Regent out of the Turihaua Eclypta, Jolliment and Merry Maiden female lines.

Due to a policy of not showing largely for herd health reasons and lack of staff, the Tofts herd has not had the high profile of some of its competitors. However, some Tofts animals have enjoyed considerable success in other people’s hands, notably Tofts Prona D671 who won several championships in England and Wales as well as winning the prestigious Burke Trophy.

Currently a joint venture with Melview Farming is providing an opportunity to market a volume of young Aberdeen-Angus bulls into the dairy herds of the West of England. Bulls and females are sold privately off farm to an ever increasing list of repeat customers.

Our herd strategy of converting grass and forage into beef has created a herd of functional cows producing commercial prime beef cattle that kill out 322 kg R4L at 17.5 months.

We welcome the World Angus Forum to the UK and in particular to Morebattle Tofts. Having travelled to many of the Angus strongholds around the World and having been made so welcome as well making many friends in the process it will be good to repay some of that hospitality.

James has been President of the Aberdeen Angus cattle Society and was honoured to lead the UK delegation to the World Angus Forum in the USA. He has also attended World Forums in New Zealand, Argentina and Australia as well as World Secretariat in Mexico. Trading missions to Brazil, Canada and Germany have also been participated in.

James has also been President of the Beef Shorthorn Cattle Society, chairing their World Conference when last held in the UK. He is also currently chairman of the Scottish Machinery Ring Association and is a past vice president of the European Machinery Ring Association.
As well as being on the organising committee of the World Angus Forum, you will no doubt hear him giving commentary in the cattle rings and main arena at the Royal Highland Show.