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Pedigree Production on Hill Property
by Eilidh MacPherson
Historically, a Blue Grey cattle stronghold, Alastair MacArthur, the third generation to farm Nunnerie, Elvanfoot, South Lanarkshire, since 1901, introduced Luing cattle in 1989.
The first few females were bought at Oban from the MacNees of Woodend, Armadale, West Lothian and over the years the Blue Greys were gradually phased out.
“Because Luings are bigger than Blue Greys there is the potential to sell heifers and bulls rather than just being commercial,” stated Alastair, who currently, jointly holds the record price for a Luing bull.
Two years ago he sold to 14 000gns, breaking the breed record at the Castle Douglas annual sale. The bull’s father Harehead Davey Dee, a roan, cost Alastair 8000gns, from Dr Pennington’s herd, while the mother was a homebred cow. “It is unusual to have a roan bull and I reckon I’ve sold more roan bulls than anyone.”
He also saw the Cadzows take a 3400gns sire home to Luing, that year, which was pleasing. An island bull is currently roaming the South Lanarkshire hills, as stock bull, Luing Hitch Hiker was bought a couple of years back.
The two bulls pictured above right in driving rain, are also Davy Dee progeny and will be forward at the sale in February.
About a dozen heifers are sold annually aged 22 months at the breeding sale in Castle Douglas in February. Last year was the exception as several cows were cast for age – pre 1996 and all heifers were taken into the herd.
“My main problem here is that the cattle all run together on the hill as there is limited in-bye ground. In the winter I feed silage simply to keep them off the hill ground and eating all the available grazing for the sheep.”
Alasdair initially purchased some land at Symington about 10 years ago and has added on over the years. “Some of it had been quarried and has been put back into production. It is used as supplementary grazing and silage production.”
Health wise the cattle are in the SAC Cattle Health Scheme and are tested for Johnnes and are BVD accredited. “BVD is compulsory for the Luing Society.”
All heifers are inspected at the sales and bulls are checked out on farm on, their mothers, in November. “The fieldsmen classify the dam, which is possible on the scale of the Society. If the mother fails, then the calf cannot be sold as a bull, which is a great thing for the breed.”
"We are also starting geno-typing, taking hair samples, to give more genetic potential information.”
New Luing Society Manager – Johnny Mackey – who previously worked for QMS is making his mark with a vastly improved, state of the art website in operation. If you haven’t already done so, click onto www.luingcattlesociety.co.uk
The next Luing Society sale is at Stirling on the 24th October. Alastair has no stock heading from Nunnerie to this sale, but will undoubtedly be attending himself to eye up what is on offer and catch up with other breeders, friends and competitors.
Cutting the sheep numbers to a more manageable level for one man has been the route taken recently by prominent Blackface Sheep Breeder – Alastair MacArthur, Nunnerie.
Following his full time shepherd going self employed and the fact that Nunnerie is included in the Clyde Wind Farm project, in-line to receive twenty-two windmills, which will occupy about a third of the ground, Alastair has reduced the pure Blackfaces by 200 and has stopped using a Bluefaced Leicester for crossing on 500 others. His flock now stands at 1500 Blackface ewes. “It is a lot less work, but I have certainly missed putting the cheque for 300 Mule ewe lambs into the bank account this year!”
“I’m now working on my own, with the help of the ‘singing shepherd’, Iain Thompson – at lambing time.”
The weather was dismal when we toured round the stock, a bit dreich when checking out the shearlings, which are destined for Lanark,Stirling and Dalmally and the rams lambs also for Lanark. The monsoon kicked in when locating some Luings!
Highlights on the Blackie front include John Harkin, Loughash, Northern Ireland purchasing a tup off £37 000 Dyke out of a £49 000 Glenrath ewe, two years ago. The year before off the same sire, which is shared with Midlock, Glenrath and the Dyke, a ewe sired by a £2800 Midlock made a £40 000 return.
Around 200 lambs are initially kept entire for ram production and are whittled down. Everything not destined for great things is fattened, with the first draw heading down the road at the end of October, the tail enders are clearerd out by March. This year, Alasitair has opted to sell more lambs through the live market due to the high prices rather than his usual on the hook method through Farmstock or the Blackie scheme and Dunbia. “Normally I don’t feel that Blackies sell as well through the ring.”
He has already taken advantage of the buoyant market by selling a number of ewe hoggs, which are normally, gimmered. “My winterings run out in March and it is difficult keeping good form on them until the sale. Rightly or wrongly I gimmer about 100 every year.”
Nunnerie, which neighbours Troloss, Kirkhope and Sweetshawhead, has a fairly hard hill, and is deficient in Cobalt. “This year, with the constant rain the deficiencies are more visable,” stated Alastair, who administers Co-secure boluses.
Having visited one or two windfarms, Alastair is convinced that the sheep are happy enough grazing beneath them. In the meantime he is happy to farm away. His off-spring are interested, but David is currently at Stirling University studying Sports Science and Fiona is on fifth and undecided. ; & nbsp;