YOUNG farmer Lucy Story is breaking new ground as she takes over the tenancy at Rugley Farm, near Alnwick.

Lucy came home to work at Rugley Farm, tenanted by her parents Alan and Lorna Jackson, four years ago. As the third generation of the family to run Northumberland Estates’ holding since 1972, Lucy is one of few female farm tenants and probably among the youngest in the country.

Last year, Lucy, 29, married Tom Story, an auctioneer with Harrison & Hetherington in St Boswells and Wooler, and whose family farms at Canonbie.

Beef, sheep and arable crops optimise production on heavy soils that limit arable cropping at Rugley.

The farming policy continues to evolve and is centred on livestock breeding with Performance Recording as the core and with great importance placed on breed qualities.

Easily managed and productive Stabiliser and pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle are run alongside pedigree Suffolk and Texel sheep on 1,000 acres, 400 of which is arable - winter wheat, winter barley, winter and spring oats and oil seed rape, with the oats and 90 tonnes of barley for home use.

After leaving school, Lucy travelled in South Africa and worked in New Zealand before going to Reading University, where she did a BSc in Agricultural Business Management.

Gaining further experience, she worked on cattle ranches in Canada for almost a year. On her return to the UK she worked for Mole Valley Farmers in north Cumbria, living with the Brough family near Caldbeck.

“I have always worked on the farm growing up and so I went to university to study agriculture. Farming was always something I wanted to do but I also wanted to travel and get a bit of experience elsewhere,” said Lucy.

“I took on the tenancy in March and Dad is going to work through until towards the end of the year and Mum is continuing to do paperwork,” she said.

Alan took on the tenancy of Rugley in 1994 when Lucy, the youngest of four daughters, was just three years old.

“At that time I didn’t know if I would have anyone to succeed me in the tenancy,” said Alan. “Lucy has gained a lot of experience with her travels and has achieved so much already. Lorna and I are immensely proud of her,” he added.

Since coming home to work Lucy has taken on the job of running the beef herd, calving the 300 cows virtually unassisted.

Calving began on April 1 last year and as of July, 291 calved there were 289 calves, which included eight sets of twins and a triplet, with 99 per cent reared.

As of November 2019 the figure was 97 per cent reared.

Alan had previously been running a herd of commercial suckler cows ,which included Angus and continental types. However, in 2002 he was one of the first in the UK to try Stabilisers, starting with imported embryos through the Stabiliser Cattle Company.

As well as by using embryos, the herd was graded up using AI and until recently 300 cows - two thirds Stabiliser-bred cattle and a third Angus - were being calved.

Heifers are calved at two years old and a strict culling policy is adopted, building up a strong herd. Both bulls and heifers are selected more strictly now to increase productivity.

The Stabiliser Cattle Company has invested in Feed Efficiency research and are beginning to look more closely at Mature Cow Size, which Alan and Lucy believe are two very important breed traits and aim to breed cows that have good feed efficiency, high growth rates alongside low mature cow size.

Cattle numbers have been reduced to 160 cows, which includes five pedigree Angus and a small number of Angus crossbred cows, calving from April 1 with three quarters calving within the first four weeks, with the aim of having a tight calving pattern.

“In the next couple of years I’m planning on running a herd of 100 cows which will be predominantly Stabiliser-bred,” said Lucy. “I’m really passionate about the Stabiliser.

“The Stabiliser allows us to maintain a closed herd while still retaining some hybrid vigour, producing low maintenance cows that are easy to handle and make maximum use of forage.

“They are very quiet and have a great temperament. When we were calving 300 we had to physically assist only about five per cent. They have a low birthweight and so calve very easily but when they hit the ground they grow very fast.

“Ease of management is very important as it will be predominantly me looking after the cows,” said Lucy. As well as her parents, there is one full-time employee.

The majority of the Stabilisers are now pure and 75 per cent are put to the Stabiliser bull, with the older and poorer cows going to the Angus. Most of this year’s heifers are pure Stabiliser and the aim is to be completely Stabiliser bred.

Home-bred bulls and some bought in bulls are used along with AI to give a good selection of new bloodlines.

Bulling heifers and heifers with calves at foot are sold with high health status at a premium through the Stabiliser company. All cattle are now DNA parentage tested which will lead to genomic testing in the future.

Bulls are kept for breeding - last year there were 40 to give a good choice - and those not selected will be finished.

Bulls not selected for breeding at birth are castrated are sold at 11 months old off the farm through Harrison & Hetherington, and heifer calves are retained or sold for breeding.

Lucy says the cows are low-input, the aim is for them to have a good summer at grass so that they are housed in a fairly fit condition and then have a restricted diet over the winter of a TMR of 5kg of silage, 1kg malt residual pellets and 1.5kg of Spey syrup plus two feeds of straw. The aim is to have them calving in a good to lean condition and make the most out of grass.

The herd is scanned and those carrying twins and thinner cows are separated. Fertility is good - this year there were five cows with twins, one of which previously had triplets.

The Angus herd goes back 15 years, primarily to produce bulls to use on the farm and allowing the closed herd policy to include male as well as female cattle.

Breed improvement has continued using semen selected from top performing bulls. Bulls used are in the top ten per cent of the breed. Surplus bulls have been sold off the farm with around five bull calves kept entire every year bringing them on to work at two years old.

The farm was carrying more than 200 pedigree Suffolk and Texel sheep and to prepare for the transition, both flocks were reduced in sales at Borderway Mart over the winter. The 120 Suffolks sold at an average of £411 and a top price of £1,250. Shearling rams will be sold at Kelso in September and in-lamb gimmers at the end of the year.

There is also a flock of 550 commercial ewes, mainly consisting of Suffolk x Texels and also the Scottish Blackface/Mule.

“I’m trying to reduce the labour input so I’m going for a Mule cross Texel type of flock to produce good prime lambs, breeding from some of the Scottish Blackface ewes we already have on the farm,” said Lucy. The aim is to run a commercial flock of 500 but still keep a small flock of pedigree Texels and Suffolks.