FIRST-GENERATION farmers Dave and Annabel Stanners have found easily-managed, low-input Luing cattle to be a good choice.

Dave, from Dinnington, on the outskirts of Newcastle, and Annabel, from Hexham, had no farming connections and they met while at Kirkley Hall college.

In 2016 they started their first farming business on their own when they took on the tenancy of the 600-acre Low Chesterhope, near West Woodburn in Redesdale, and the Luings are playing a key role alongside hill sheep in the farm business’s success.

“I had always wanted to farm even though I lived in the town so I went to Kirkley Hall and did a National Diploma in Agriculture. Annabel also went to the college and did a farm secretarial course,” said Dave, immediate past chairman of the Luing Cattle Society.

Dave did his work experience year with another newcomer to the industry, Mark Linklater at Kirkheaton, and on finishing college in 1996 he went back to work for him. It was during this time on the beef and sheep farm that he had experience of the Luing breed.

In 2004 Dave took the opportunity to work as farm manager of Lord Derby’s Knowsley Estate, running the beef and sheep enterprise alongside the renowned safari park.

Annabel, who has worked for Lycetts in Newcastle, began working for NFU Mutual on Merseyside.

A change in the estate’s farming policy led to the couple contract farming 900 acres of the estate and managing the estate’s 1,200 Mule ewes, while providing their own labour and machinery.

“Because we went into a stewardship scheme and the estate by then didn’t have any cattle which were required for the grazing, we asked if we could invest some of our own money and buy cattle,” said Dave.

“We decided on Luings because they are quiet and docile - partly because we didn’t have any handling facilities and there were just the two of us to manage them and also because of all the activities on the estate.

“There was also some rough grazing that the Luings were suited to and we were able to outwinter the calves on the arable stubble fields and strip graze cows on kale,” he added.

“In 2009 we went to the Castle Douglas Luing sale intending to buy 20 females with a bull but we ended up buying ten when we hit our budget. We bought bigger, more modern types, mostly Benhar breeding from West Lothian and Rockcliffe from Dumfries and Galloway. The bull we bought was Attonburn Jackpot which proved to be a great sire.

“We spent a lot of money over the first few years buying additional bulling and in-calf heifers.”

In 2009 their daughter Isabel was born and Annabel gave up her job to concentrate on the farming. They also have a son, Finlay, aged five.

In 2011 they made further investments in their own sheep with the estate’s permission and they bought some draft Scottish Blackface ewes to breed Mules from and they paid rental for them. By then they were running 1,250 acres of the estate with 1,500 sheep and 60 cows.

“Contract farming gave us a way of getting into our own business,” said Dave. “There’s no way we could have afforded to buy the stock we did without contract farming.”

The couple were encouraged to go for a tenanted farm in North Yorkshire and just missing it led them to look more seriously, eventually considering farms from Devon to Aberdeen.

Ironically, back in Northumberland Low Chesterhope near West Woodburn, owned by the Robson family, came up to rent and the Stanners got the tenancy.

By this time they had 80 pedigree Luing cows and 200 ewes and they took on the 250 Northumberland type Blackface ewes and 250 Mule ewes at Low Chesterhope.

The farm’s 600 acres comprises 200 acres of enclosed fell, 300 acres of rough grazing and 100 acres for silage.

Right from the start the Luings have settled into the farm. Annabel recalls the day they arrived. “Dave was still at Knowsley so I was on my own and the cattle wagon had to be reversed off the A68 down the lane.

“When they were let out of the lorry they just walked half a mile down the road and into the shed! No one could believe it,” she said.

The 80 Luing cows and in-calf heifers are all bred pure. The current stock bulls are the 9,000gns February 2017 purchase Benhar Typhoon, home-bred Tynedale Samson and Orkney-bred Silwick Vaslav, bought for 5,000gns in Castle Douglas in February 2018.

The herd has been closed since 2016, with the exception of bought-in stock bulls, and it is a member of the HiHealth Herdcare scheme, testing for BVD and Johnes. the herd is BVD accredited and Johnes risk level 2.

The Luings are easily calved with a good calf to cow weaning ratio and they produce a big calf from a medium sized cow. Longevity is another plus, with the Stanners expecting to get ten to 11 calves from their cows.

The Stanners have chosen to breed slightly bigger cattle for calving at two years old. Half the cows are outwintered on the fell at up to 1,000 ft above sea level.

They are fed baled silage after Christmas with no additional feed unless it snows. Last year the cows were scanned and those due to calve later were outwintered.

Calving starts in February and batches of cows are turned out to make way for the later calvers. The aim is for 90 per cent of the cows to have calved by the end of March before the Mules start lambing on April 5 and the Blackies on April 15, all lambing outside.

However, in 2018 the harsh spring and summer drought impacted on the herd’s calving pattern which the Stanners want to keep as tight as possible to produce good batches of cattle and help with labour - everything is done by the couple, including all paperwork except for the accountancy.

The youngstock are housed over the winter to grow them on at a rate of 1.2kg a day. Both steers and heifers last year averaged 272 kg at weaning. The aim is for the heifers to weigh 400-450kg at bulling.

Up to 25 bulling heifers have been sold privately for the last three years from May at 14 to 15 months old to regular purchasers, including Northern Ireland

In May this year 41 steers averaged 490kg at 14 months old and were sold privately and through the ring at Hexham mart’s traditional breeds sale where they averaged 478kg.

The bullocks averaged a dlwg of 1.21kg over the winter and were fed 3.5kg of 16 per cent compound feed plus 10kg of silage.

“It is a learning curve. Being first-generation farmers we don’t have anyone to give us advice but on the other hand we can do what we want,” said Dave.

“Our system across the board is low cost which fits well with the Luings. We try not to use too many wormers or antibiotics and we work closely with our vet, Lee-Anne Oliver of Scott Mitchell in Hexham.

“We don’t vaccinate for pneumonia and we’re adopting a proactive rather than reactive approach and following research. We’re trying to farm in ‘an old-fashioned modern way’!” he said.

The cows get a BVD vaccination, cosecure bolus and are wormed and fluked while housed.

Weaned calves are housed on paper crumble, a paper by-product bought locally, which is cleaned out once a month.

The Stanners would like to start selling pedigree breeding bulls - currently the majority of the males are castrated as they are struggling with manpower and facilities with only one shed for the calves.

A recent venture promoted via a Facebook page Low Chesterhope Produce, they have begun marketing their own Luing heifer beef which is dry aged for 21 days, lamb and rare breed pork and bacon which is cut and packed by a local butcher in Wark.

Dave joined the Luing Cattle Society while working at Kirkheaton and he has been an active member only stepping down recently as its chairman.

The hardy breed, which has adopted the slogan ‘Flesh from forage’, with the emphasis on lower inputs, has seen an increase in popularity with pedigree registrations increasing from 6,829 a year in 2012 to 10,072 in 2019 as well as a big increase in non-registered cattle.

The society places great emphasis on herd health and all bulls entered for society sales must have their dams scored by an inspector for traits including teats, udder, locomotion and temperament. Skeletal size is another trait that the organisation is working on so that buyers can assess cattle size for their farm’s conditions.