Easily managed Beef Shorthorns are proving to be the ideal cattle
for an organic farm in Cumbria’s Eden Valley.
Cows and spring born calves in the Lowther herd on the slopes of Blaze Fell
above the River Eden.
Against the prospects of a changing subsidy system, conversion
to organic status began six years ago at Nord Vue, Armathwaite,
Nord Vue is owned by Charles Lowther who believed that the Beef
Shorthorn would perfectly fit the system on the 700 acre unit
well as having the ability to provide beef with superior eating
Charles Lowther also owns Lowther Park Farms, near Penrith,
with his brother Jim and father the Earl of Lonsdale, working
closely with Lowther’s managing director John Reid, and
while Nord Vue is run as a separate business, the two collaborate
in a number of areas, including the high quality organic meat
sales business begun two years ago.
The 40 cow Lowther Shorthorn herd was established with bought
in heifers during 2002 and 2003, taking its name from the original
herd at Lowther which existed for 140 years, and they run alongside
a flock of 1,000 Lleyn cross ewes as well as 500 pigs which are
At Nord Vue a livery yard in the 19th century purpose built
stable block for 12 horses and Cumbria’s only outdoor Olympic
size competition arena under construction and cross country ride
this spring is also being successfully run alongside a sandstone
facing business producing Lazonby red sandstone products as well
as facing stone.
“I thought that of all the traditional breeds the Beef
Shorthorn had the possibility of being a good suckler cow. I
figured because the Belgian Blue had been bred from the Shorthorn,
there must be muscling ability in the breed which is where I
want to improve my herd’s dam lines through embryos sourced
from a wider gene pool abroad,” said Charles Lowther.
“The Shorthorn is not too deep and appeals to the UK market
because it is a tighter gutted animal than some traditional breeds.
It would be perfect to add that little bit more muscle to the
“I see this as a five to 10 year breeding programme to
make them more competitive within the commercial sector, yet
while retaining all the benefits of the breed.
“The Beef Shorthorn is a dual purpose breed. The femininity
has to be one of the main breeding credentials but I believe
that if the breed is going to be competitive in this country
it has to have muscling to complement its other great attributes
such as milking ability, ease of management, hardiness, ease
of fleshing and temperament.”
Another factor which decided Charles Lowther on the breed was
when he did his dissertation at university on the eating qualities
of meat, beef in particular, where the Shorthorn proved its superior
“The Shorthorn suits our system here at Nord Vue. They
are very docile and easily managed – we haven’t had
to calve one this spring. They have good locomotion and no foot
problems as well as having plenty of frame and bone,” said
“We run the whole operation with three employees and our
only costs for the cows are around six tonnes of silage, vaccination
costs for IBR, leptospirosis and BVD, mineral licks and boluses
because of deficiencies in the ground
At last year’s Carlisle May sale the Lowther herd took
the championship and top price of 3,800gns with the heifer Lowther
Lilac by stock bull Sherlock.
At the February 2006 Perth sale Lowther Shona, also by Sherlock,
out of a cow from Jane and Bill Landers’ Cairnsmoor herd
sold for 4,000gns.
Last year the herd also had great success in the show ring,
in particular with retained stock bull Lowther Excalibur, winning
the Beef Shorthorn junior champion bull at the Great Yorkshire
Show and with breed championships at Carlisle and Penrith shows.
A draft of three home-bred heifers open for bulling, all by
Sherlock, is entered for Harrison & Hetherington’s
Shorthorn sale on Friday May 26 at Borderway Mart, Carlisle.
Despite discouragement from his father Lord Lonsdale who grew
up with the breed at Lowther, Charles who took over running the
farm at only 23 has stuck to his guns.
Nord Vue, which includes 100 acres of woodland, has 400 acres
of permanent pasture running up to a height of 755ft of rough
grazing on Blaze Fell where the stone quarry was started this
A three year ley predominantly red clover sward, which includes
perennial ryegrass, Timothy and white clover, has been grown
in the rotation on 60 acres to provide silage for the cattle
The clover is followed in the rotation by barley and now the
contract reared pigs. Organic carrots, parsnips and potatoes
are also being considered as part of the rotation.
Lucerne is also being grown this year on 20 acres and if this
is successful on the dry, sandy ground it could replace the red
clover as it costs half the price of organic grass seed and is
a five year ley.
The April-May calving herd are out-wintered on fields which
will be ploughed out for spring barley.
Two months pre-calving the cows are fed on barley straw which
has been undersown with the red clover ley.
They calve on fields near the farm before being turned out onto
the fell where they remain all summer, being fed supplementary
silage if the grazing is insufficient in the spring.
The calves are creep fed from August and weaned in November
when they are housed for their first winter during which time
they receive supplementary feed.
New cattle housing will enable pedigree bullocks to be accommodated
next winter, and be finished for either Dovecote Park or the
Lowther organic meat scheme.
The replacement policy is very selective with only six heifers
born in 2005 being retained.
Heifers calve at two years old and, to date, all the herd has
been served by stock bulls. The herd’s current three bulls
are Lowther Excalibur, Chapelton Warrior and Uppermill Sherlock
Currently the beef system at Lowther Park Farms is under review
and the Beef Shorthorn may be used on the continental crossbreds,
numbers of which are being reduced from 400 to 200 because of
Organic production began at Lowther two years ago with chicken
and now 1,000 organic free range birds are sold on a weekly basis.
The business has developed its own slower maturing breed particulalry
suited to organic systems and patented it as the Lakeland Ranger
and it is also moving into supplying organic day old chicks and
organic egg production.
Lowther and Nord Vue complement each other with their different
land types – Lowther being heavier land while the sandy
Eden Valley soil is ideal for outdoor pigs.
Landrace and Duroc gilts and boars are finished at 500 at a
time on contract for R and V Matherson, of Elgin, Inverness,
with some going through Lowther’s own organic meat business
and the remainder for Sainsbury’s organic pork, Tulip and
Cranswick and Grampian.
The pigs are brought onto farm at between eight and 10 weeks
old weighing around 40kg. Each unit of 50 pigs is run on 0.7
acre paddocks, cleaning up and fertilising the ground.
The units each have access to a straw bedded tent. The finishing
period is two and a half months taking weights up to 100kg killing
out at up to 74.5 per cent. They are raised on a fixed price
per head with a grading bonus
Once the pigs have gone, the ground will be put down to game
crop kale for the farm’s shoot and sheep followed by barley
the following spring.
Nord Vue’s crossbred Lleyns are gradually being bred pure
with up to 200 being put back to the Lleyn each year and the
remainder crosses with the Texel, Charollais, Beltex cross and
this year the hoggs have been crossed with the lighter bones
With the opening in February of Junction 38 meat cutting plant
at Tebay in Cumbria the businesses now plan to market home-produced
lamb, beef and pork, which until now have been sold through conventional
outlets, under their own brand.
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