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Lakeland Luings Prove Productive

Outwintered Luing cattle play a major role in managing wildlife habitats on a farming and sporting estate in South Lakeland.

Alec Smith, manager of High House Farm

Alec Smith

Alec Smith, manager of High House Farm in the Winster Valley south of Bowness on Windermere, had had no experience of the maternal breed which was evolved by the Cadzow brothers on the west of Scotland island of Luing more than 60 years ago.

He also had no plans to breed pedigree cattle until in February 2005 he went to the Castle Douglas premier sale and he bought two registered heifers.

Soon after that the opportunity arose to buy 17 pedigree heifers from Bob and Janene Moffat’s Wooplaw herd at Galashiels and the pedigree Winster herd was formed. They were joined by a stock bull purchased from Torwoodlee and Buckholm Estates, Galashiels, the 2003-born Buckholm Flyer, which is still with the herd.

“We have 300 acres of rough grazing - ‘rocks and bracken’ - which is managed habitat and can only be grazed with cattle, not sheep, for nine months of the year,” said Alec. “With little persuasion, I felt that the Luing was the most productive native breed for this marginal land.

“The habitat, which rises to 700ft above sea level, is of ecological importance for the High Brown Fritillary butterfly. The 1,400 acre estate is in the Lake District ESA and the agreement runs until 2013, after which we hope to join Higher Level Stewardship. The cattle and the flock of 600 ewes play their role in the estate’s environmental management.”

The estate, which is owned by businessman Brian Scowcroft, has a large commercial shoot, including pheasant, partridge and duck, managed by two full time gamekeepers, with 400 acres of established and newly planted woodland and several man made tarns which form the basis of the duck shoot. It also has stables for carriage driving horses for Brian’s father, Kenneth.

Luing cows and their calves
on the rough grazing above Winster

Luing cows and their calves
Herd numbers have grown to an optimum 60 breeding females with the last purchases of females in 2008 at Castle Douglas. Buckholm Flyer has been joined by herd sires Attonburn John Bull and Luing Kipper.

An increased interest in the native breeds for grazing in conservation schemes and the easily managed Luing has also helped market breeding stock from Winster.

Bulling heifers from the herd, which is in the SAC Premium Health scheme, have been sold at Castle Douglas. At the 2011 February premier sale 12 bulling heifers by Flyer averaged £1,020.

Primarily they sold to hill farms requiring cattle acclimatised to ticks - some in the Lake District where there is a growing interest in the breed, and from Derbyshire to Oban. Eight 10 month old heifers were also sold off the farm to local herd to average £900, although Alec likes to fly the flag for the herd at the Castle Douglas sale.

All the cattle with the exception of the previous year’s calves are outwintered on the deferred grazing, which under the agreement has to be free of cattle from the beginning of June to the end of August, when the cows and calves are run on the in-bye fields.

A Luing cow showing her strong
maternal instincts

Luing cow
The cows calve mainly over two months from the beginning of April and they are run with their calves on the deferred grazing from October.

The calves are fed creep and the cows are given clamp silage from mid January. This year the grass has been well eaten off because November and December were wet so supplementary silage is necessary to prevent the cattle eating the young poisonous bracken shoots.

“The Luings do very well in standing up to the ticks. They are treated with Spot-on and we have no problems,” said Alec. “They are vaccinated against BVD and treated for worms and fluke - having the ground empty for three months when the cattle go to clean pasture also helps,” he added.

Longevity and fertility are strengths of the Luing, originally derived from the Beef Shorthorn and the Highlander and developed through line breeding to be a recognised breed in 1965.

“We haven’t culled any females for age. Our oldest are coming nine years old and they doesn’t look their age. I would expect them to produce between 10 and 12 calves in their lifetime.

“This helps us with the sale of surplus heifers because we don’t need many replacements - this year we have six heifers coming into the herd.

The heifers are calved at three years old because of the conditions on the farm, although many breeders do calve Luing heifers at two. Likewise, the size of cow is slightly smaller at up to 600kg for a mature female, reducing the amount of feeding and poaching because they are outwintered.

Luing cows and their calves
on the rough grazing above Winster

Luing cows and their calves
“The Luings are tremendous browsers and grazers and they have a job to do but I can’t offer them a good enough living to calve earlier,” said Alec.

Bullocks are sold store at 18 months old through the ring at Kendal and Bentham with 25 averaging £804 last October. The majority finish at good specifications for the market at R grade.

“I don’t want to go down the route of a niche market. The Luings will compete with any finished animal and if they can make better use of home-grown forage they are going to be more efficient cattle. They very much suit a low input grazing system

While there is a ready demand for pure bred Luings which is spreading geographically, Alec has decided to cross the lower end of the herd with a Simmental bull and Blackpool Boston has been purchased to to the job. Sim-Luings are also proving increasingly popular as a larger commercial suckler cow.

The estate carries a flock of 600 ewes, lambing in March and April, with plans to increase numbers to 700. Three hundred of the ewes are Lairg type Cheviots, half of which are bred pure and the remainder put to the Bluefaced Leicester to produce replacements for the 300-ewe Cheviot Mule flock.

A further 150 Cheviot hoggs are run on as shearlings which are put to the Charollais ram, with the Beltex and Texel used on the older ewes, sold either finished or store by Christmas through Bentham and Kendal marts

Like the beef herd, the flock is closed, with Cheviot rams bought at Lockerbie and Bluefaced rams and terminal sires bought at Kelso.

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jennifer mackenzie
Article by
Jennifer MacKenzie