2014-01-22   facebook twitter rss

For The Lauries The Future Is Traditional!

Using the right cattle has brought continued success to the Laurie family, who farm heavy clay, hill ground with 40 inches of rainfall.

Using the right breed in the right farming system has proved profitable for the Laurie family of Snowden Close, Gilsland in north Cumbria. In 1987, when Keith and Janet Laurie forsook Scotland to farm south of the border in Cumbria, Galloway cows continued to be their chosen breed.

James Laurie farms with parents Keith and Janet on heavy hill land with 40 inches annual rainfall, a challenge the family successfully overcome by using stock bred for these conditions.

James Laurie farms with parents Keith and Janet on heavy hill land with 40 inches annual rainfall, a challenge the family successfully overcome by using stock bred for these conditions.

Until then Keith had worked with his father Tom, who ran Galloways on the family’s home farm at Lockerbie. So knowing the attributes of this hardy, double coated breed Keith and Janet took 70 Galloway cows to their new home, a 650 acre hill farm rising to 700ft near RAF Spadeadam.

Their hill land at Snowden Close Farm comprises 320 acres, which is home to the cows for much of the year. Nearly 200 acres of better ground are grazed by the youngstock and Swaledale ewes with twins. While up to 140 acres could be used for silage usually 100-110 acres cut once provides sufficient winter forage.

Galloway cows suit the farm, being contented grazers, roaming over the whole hill and eating off the rough grass as well as the green areas,” said Keith, who has firmly resisted joining government environmental schemes. Schemes that could distort a successful farm system that is fully in tune with the upland landscape.

“The sole aim of the Galloway herd is to produce the Blue Grey, that stalwart hill cow coming back into favour due to its ease of management, longevity and ability to thrive on a forage based diet,” he added.

The Lauries sell their Blue Grey heifers at Newcastleton Auction mart in October at 15 to 17 months old, usually to be bulled the following May to July. Operated by Harrison & Hetherington this is the oldest Suckler Sale in the British Isles and the largest auction of Blue Grey Calves. Only slightly changed since it was built in the 1880s the ring still has an open top roof.

Demand for traditional Blue Greys is rising and Lauries have sold stock at £1,000 plus this past three years with Snowden Close heifers peaking at £1,260 in October 2013. Keith adding that recently some younger heifers have been retained and inseminated with an Aberdeen Angus bull to be sold, aged 24-25 months, in calf for £1,650 to a regular buyer.

The herd of around 80 cows, mainly home-bred pedigree Galloways have been registered under the Snowden Close suffix since 1987. Up to 20 of these Galloways are bred pure to provide herd replacements. Galloway cows to be the right type for crossing must be docile and milky as well as long-lived with the oldest cow in the herd now 14 years old!

“Our home-bred herd replacements are out of the best breeding cows,” said Keith. “The heifers and young cows all go to a Whitebred Shorthorn bull, then when we have identified the best ones; they are put to the Galloway bull.
“The culling percentage is low, indeed with cows being bred off our best females the success rate is very high,” he added.

Demand is rising at suckler sales for the easy to run Blue Grey calf out of Galloway cows

Demand is rising at suckler sales for the easy to run Blue Grey calf out of Galloway cows

Calving starts in mid-May with the aim of getting all the cows back in calf during better weather. Cows are wintered in cubicles from early December until mid-May as rainfall averages 40 inches onto mainly clay soils!

Cows are fed just silage and straw other than a few late calvers given some concentrate to get them in calf sooner. Calves are weaned from February onwards with inputs generally low for a farm business where 18 months can pass between vet visits.

The Snowden Close herd’s current Galloway stock bull is nine year old Barfil Barnstormer, who followed the very successful Astrac of Whitehill selected when a four month old calf on a 16 year old cow. Older cows are by Adam of Lochurr, which Keith believes is a bull to breed the ideal hill cow. Previous to him, Voyager of Kilnstown put in a bit of character needed to breed a top Blue Grey heifer. Bulls are selected on their type and background to produce a good hill cow.

Seven Whitebred Shorthorns are also kept to breed bulls for crossing on Galloways to produce those Blue Grey calves so sought after at suckler sales. These Whitebred Shorthorns complement the Galloways and the small herd was founded by the purchase of 16 year old Flatt Marilyn in 1980.

Two home bred bulls are used with bulls and heifers sometimes sold at Carlisle or at home with buyers from as far afield as the north of Scotland, southern England, Wales, Ulster and the Republic of Ireland.
Again, like the Galloways they are long-lived with a recent stock bull working until he was 14 years old.

Though the family regard Galloway and Blue Grey bullocks almost as a by-product they are finished profitably on farm at low cost to find a ready market with a local butcher. Galloway bullocks need 30 months to finish at 300kg, but Blue Grey bullocks are easily finished before 30 months at over 300kg deadweight so sell during September and October with no meal fed!

Keith and Janet’s family of five all have off farm careers other than James, who works at home doing most of the cattle and tractor work. However, his siblings return to help with lambing. Thomas is a mechanical engineer, Heather works in quality assurance with a research firm, Murdo, a trainee accountant is involved on the farm at weekends while vet student Fiona’s skills are very useful.

Mum Janet now has more time to help with the sheep flock of 650 ewes, 630 of which are Swaledales put to Bluefaced Leicester rams. Ewe lambs are sold at Longtown Mart with the smaller end sold as gimmers the following year. Replacement Swaledales are all bought as lambs from high ground in upper Teesdale with replacement Leicester rams bred from 15 ewes. One Leicester tup was out this past autumn for the seventh time and still breeding well.

A few Hampshire ewes make up the sheep flock with the Hampshire ram also going to a few Mule ewe lambs, which missed the autumn sale so are sold with lambs at foot.

Because the farm is heavily stocked some ewes are wintered away to save silage and leave fields fresher for lambing time which begins about April 6 for older ewes and April 15 for hill ewes. Swaledales are expected to rear six or seven crops of lambs. However, the downside to away wintering can be a high scanning of up to 200% which results in a lot of triplets and work! 2011 was a good year for the flock with 488 Mule ewe lambs sold on one day at up to £115 a head with 39 sold later as shearlings.

According to Keith Laurie, “Keeping Galloways is a slow way to make a fortune,” but it is interesting to see how our margins compare favorably with other sucker herds.
“In recent years returns from the cattle have been steadier than from sheep. So we wouldn’t like to do without either. Especially as Galloways make sure all our grass is eaten off and turned into income.”

Rodney Magowan

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