Still Luing fan 20 years on
By Shelley Wright
HARDINESS, a docile nature and foraging ability are just some of the factors that convinced hill farmer John Fawcett to try Luing cattle more than 20 years ago.
And he is still a fan, now running more than 100 pure-bred cows at Merkland, a 924ha (2283-acre) hill farm in Dumfriesshire.
During a Luing Cattle Society open day on his farm last week, which attracted more than 150 visitors, Mr Fawcett explained how he managed the Luing cattle and 1600 ewes on land that rises from 183m (600ft) to 550m (1800ft) above sea level.
About 142ha (350 acres) is improved hill or fields, while the rest is hill land. All fields are in grass and little reseeding has been done since the Fawcett family took on the tenancy of Merkland in 1983.
As 11 tractors and trailers full of visitors meandered around the farm, Mr Fawcett said the hill land was treated every two years with either calcified seaweed or Gasfa. "It is really peaty land and does not stand much tractor work," he said.
"We do not use much Nitrogen – an application of 25:5:5 every spring is all – but I am a strong believer in calcified seaweed and phosphate. Both encourage clover, which we value highly."
About 17.8ha (44 acres) is cut for silage, with another 24.3ha (60 acres) of additional land rented on a grass park let each year.
He calves Luing heifers in December at about 33 months old, with cows calving in March and early April. "We like to get the calving out of the way before we start lambing," he said.
Despite the hardiness of the breed, Mr Fawcett said the cows at Merkland had to be wintered indoors. "The land cant stand cattle through winter, they just make too much mess. We are wondering about a wood-chip corral in future to see if we can keep some of the cattle out for winter, but we have not made any final decision on that yet," he said.
Winter keep for the housed cattle is silage and straw, along with a bit of beet pulp and dark grains.
Of the 110 cows, about 60 are bred pure, while the rest are put to a Limousin bull.
Limousin cross steer calves are sold as suckled calves, while cross heifers and Luing steers are wintered and sold as stores in May. Surplus Luing heifers are sold at breed society sales. "But we like to keep the best for ourselves. We do that with both the cattle and the sheep," he said.
Luings take their name from the island off Scotlands west coast, where, in 1947, the three Cadzow brothers, Ralph, Shane and Denis, developed the breed by crossing Beef Shorthorns with Highland cattle. After years of in-breeding and line-breeding programmes, the Luing was finally recognised by the government as a breed in its own right in 1965.
Only Ralph is still alive, and recently accepted, on behalf of all three brothers, the Sir William Young award which commemorates service to the Scottish agricultural industry.
The first draw of Scotch Mule lambs had been made just before the open day at Merkland, ready for sale at Castle Douglas. "Quite a bit of effort goes into producing them. The job is not too brilliant at the moment though – last year we averaged £28 a head compared with £63 three years ago," he said. "All we can do is hope for a better trade this year."
About 600 of the 1600 Blackface ewes are crossed with Bluefaced Leicesters to produce Mule lambs. All the others are bred pure.
"We have been using Hexham-type Blackface rams to get a better size of lamb. And now we are going back to the Newton Stewart and Lanark types to put to these Hexham crosses to give us hybrid vigour," said Mr Fawcett.
The final livestock enterprise at Merkland is the herd of 10 Duroc cross sows which run on about 2.8ha (7 acres) of fenced bracken on the hill. "We decided to try this in autumn 1998, when pigs were cheap, with a view to them routing out the bracken within two years," Mr Fawcett said. "But we think they are going to need a bit longer," he added. *
• Luing cattle.
• Scotch Mule lambs.
• Duroc pigs.
Luing cattle are bred pure and crossed with Limousin bulls at Merkland to produce pure and crossbred progeny.