The History of Rawburn

by John Elliot IV

The Rawburn Aberdeen Angus herd evolved around 70 years ago from cattle bred in the Cape Wrath herd on the farthest North Westerly tip of the British mainland.

The Cape Wrath herd was started in 1913 by John Elliot, my Great Grandfather and his sons, Tom, John my Grandfather, Andrew and Walter.  My Father, also John, used their best bulls in his herd of registered Aberdeen Angus, which carried the suffix “The Watch” at that time, the early 1950s, and also on crossbred cows at Rawburn near Duns in the Scottish Borders. These produced calves for sale at the local auction. The family objective almost a century ago of providing high performance, sale topping cattle remains unchanged today at Roxburgh Mains, Kelso in the hands of the fourth and fifth John Elliot.

A Major Change - Cross Bred to Pure Bred

Several of the cross bred steer calves sold at auction for huge prices and were subsequently successful in the leading primestock shows in the country. On three occasions during the 1970s the highest priced steer calf in the United Kingdom was bred in the Rawburn Herd.

Extensive use of Charolais bulls, which was the only profitable way at the time, along with Angus and Shorthorn, led to a deterioration in the quality of the crossbred cows. To remedy matters, a number of registered Aberdeen Angus females were bought for crossing with the Shorthorn. Sometimes a better female would be bred pure.

At this time two significant heifers entered the herd. Magnet Princess of Tangier, daughter of a cow from the first importation of cattle from Canada into the UK, and Southolm Duchess 66N, top priced heifer at the Southolm sale in 1982, proved exceptional breeders.

Many descendants of both remain in the herd today. Two sons of Duchess were Reserve Supreme Champions at Perth Bull Sales. Another was top priced bull and a fourth Junior Champion.

Performance Recording Starts

In the 1980s Aberdeen Angus bulls did not enjoy the high prices they do today so the decision was taken to market the bulls privately as soon as they finished our on farm performance test.

Every year since its inception more bulls from our herd have been included in the, Signet initially and ABRI latterly, list of top hundred bulls in the UK rated on performance than from any other herd. This is hardly surprising as we have not only weight recorded since the early 1980s and ultrasonically scanned since the technology became available, but have during this period sought out and used the highest performing bulls in the breed, wherever in the world they were, through purchase, A.I and E.T.

At this time the American bulls Scotch Cap and Rito 2100 GDAR made a major contribution to the herd. The most successful stock bulls during this period were Willabar Beacon, sired by Nichols Landmark L56, Nightingale Panther, sired by Rito 2100 and Elgar of the Moss, by Scotch Cap out of the great cow GT Evergreen 312. Bulls which, in our opinion, subsequently had the greatest influence on the herd were Hoff Limited Edition SC594, his son Rawburn Randolph F555 and Rawburn Lord Ross C216.

Cows used at this time through embryo transfer of particular note were Cudlobe Ellen Erica 46D, Prairielane Rosebud O11, Hoff Ebony and Hoff Blackbird 5218.

Rawburn Transformer - a Landmark

A significant breakthrough occurred in 1997 when Rawburn Transformer was born. Sired by Hoff Great Western SC456 and out of Willabar Tilda 7B, a daughter of GT Maximum. Transformer broke every record as a yearling and recorded the previously unheard of Signet Beef Value of 55.

His offspring, both in our own and other herds, comprehensively outperformed those of any other bull through the first decade of the millennium.

In 2001 one third of the top hundred bulls in the UK, including the entire top ten, ranked on performance, were sired by him. In 2019, twenty-two years after his birth, Transformer still remains a yardstick.

Herd Management - New Genetics & Sales Records

Herd management remains as commercially realistic as it always has been. Heifers calve at two years of age. Bulls are reared in large contemporary groups on, if possible, feed grown on the farm. No animal receives preferential treatment during the performance recording period.

All bulls without exception are made available for sale at the conclusion of our own farm performance test. All performance statistics and EBVs are available for inspection and each bull is pre-priced based on genetics, its own performance and eye appeal. Occasionally, if a bull has not been sold he will be taken to Perth Bull Sale.

Genetic Input

Our genetic policy is to use the very best genetics wherever we can find them to meet the goals of our own herd and the herds of our customers.

On four separate occasions, Rawburn has purchased the high selling bull at Perth Bull Sales. The most recent was Balmachie Jack Eric. The introduction of these genetics has acted as an excellent benchmark to our own herds performance. Our belief is that feed utilisation is a trait that will become essential to increasing profits in the beef sector. In 2016 we purchased the rights to Nichols Expectation, a bull that excels in this trait phenotypically and genomically.

The use of embryo Transfer has been invaluable to the herd with many of our most famous sires resulting from our ET programme. In recent years our focus has been on cattle that excel in growth and feed utilisation.

In 2016 we purchased Nichols Bonnie, the Dam of the highest bull in the Nichols herd for these combined traits. We have since had numerous offspring from this female.


For the past 20 years Rawburn Sires and Dams have dominated the ABRI Breedplan charts in the UK. For Terminal Index, Rawburn Farms have bred 6 of the highest 10 bulls ever recorded in the UK. We have bred 9 of the highest females ever recorded in the UK and all of the top 5.

Maternal Traits are no less impressive with Rawburn females making up 50% of the highest 10 cows in the UK for Self Replacing Index and the highest 2 females ever bred in the UK.

These are facts that we are very proud of!

The Showring

Although the showring never dictates the direction of the Rawburn herds, we do pride ourselves on breeding cattle that are structurally sound and pleasing to the eye. The true measure of success is how your genetics work in other breeder’s herds. At the latest Stirling bull sale, 25 of the catalogued lots were sired by Rawburn bulls. This is considerably more than offspring from any other herd’s Sires.

In the past 4 years Rawburn sires have bred more class winners and Major Champions at the Royal Highland Show, Great Yorkshire Show and National Calf Show than any other herds bulls

The Future at Rawburn

Our overall farming policy at Roxburgh Mains, home of the Rawburn Aberdeen Angus herd, has shifted over three decades from 60% grain production and 40% pasture to 60% grass and 40% grain as nothing is paying us like the Aberdeen Angus cattle. Grazing among the cows are the high performance Roxburgh Mains Suffolk and Roxburgh Texel flocks. Rams are sold annually at the world renowned Kelso Ram Sales and are invariably among the top averages.

In this era of health scares and schemes, selection of our Angus seed stock, based on performance records, DNA technology and traditional visual appraisal, makes us confident as never before in the direction our cattle are moving. All calves born since 2017 have been genomically profiled. In our future breeding policy, selection for feed efficiency will assume increasing importance.

A New Venture: the Gordon Herd

In 2016 we were left the farm of Upper Huntlywood, which is fifteen miles north of Roxburgh Mains and is near the village of Gordon. In situ was the Linton Gilbertines herd of Aberdeen Angus, which was based almost entirely on Rawburn genetics. In tribute to our benefactor, The late Gordon R Brooke, we have renamed the herd “THE GORDON HERD”. The herd has already received considerable success in the show and sales rings. In contrast to Rawburn, where cattle are sold on farm and showing is rarely practised, it is our intention to continue showing both locally and nationally and to sell at Stirling and Carlisle Bull Sales.

Thank you for visiting our website. Even better, visit us at Roxburgh Mains, Kelso and Upper Huntlywood, Gordon in the beautiful and historic Scottish Borders. Please contact us at [email protected] or on 07795 165140. We would be delighted to hear from you.

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