For upland farmers opting to breed Limousin cattle, it is not uncommon for their breed choice to be questioned when government subsidy schemes favour native cattle.

However, the fact that its commercial return is higher than subsidy value is the reason why so many choose the Limousin breed.

John Swift farms Dry Howe, a 1,900-acre hill farm, 1,900ft above sea level between Kendal and Shap, in Cumbria, and has opted since 1988 to breed Limousin cattle over the native rival.

The Northern Farmer: The Swifts' Limousin bull, Gallaber Maxamus

He says: “Many assume that only native breeds would suit my farm, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve bred the herd up from heifers, so they are hefted, hardy and suit the hill. They have plenty of milk and good temperament as that’s what I’ve selected for.”

John first introduced Limousins in 1988 but despite losing his herd to foot-and-mouth (a contiguous cull in 2001), he opted to stick with Limousins when he restocked.

To re-establish his Limousin herd, John bought in two batches of maiden heifers from three local dispersing herds Ruffland, Bruntnott and Brackenthwaite and purchased stock bull Ryedale Sabre through Harrison & Hetherington, Carlisle.

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In 2017, John entered the higher level stewardship and committed 425 acres of his fell to the restoration of woodland pasture, planting 50,000 thorn trees.

Some may question why the Swifts overlooked the additional payment for native cattle in favour of sticking with the unsubsidised Limousin.

John says: “I don’t understand why the payment is ring-fenced for native breeds. My Limousins graze the hill evenly, they thrive and most importantly rear strong calves.

"Sticking with Limousin made the most commercial sense for us. The commercial return from the increased conformation and younger age at slaughter potential far outweighed the ‘benefit’ of the native payment.”

The payment would be roughly £6,000 per year, which he easily made up and more from the return in the live ring.

“The surplus young bulls sell at ten-month-old as stores at Hopes of Wigton averaging £1,200 but for a similar aged native bred you’d be lucky if they made £450. Limousins are bred for calf vigour and to put weight on which is what we need to farm efficiently.”

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John farms with his 27-year-old daughter, Lauren, who is hugely passionate about farming and is looking to be the third succession on the families tenancy under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986.

The Northern Farmer: Limousin cow and calf on the Swifts farm

Lauren is concerned that stewardship schemes overlook Limousin.

Lauren says: “It is so important the farm stacks up commercially and it’s the commercial viability of the calves that appeals to me and my future. There is a perception that native cattle are smaller and therefore better for the land, but the data speaks for itself, our cows weigh on average 630kg, graze evenly, are on the hill till mid-December and average 14 calves/cow!”

Lauren is a firm believer in data driven decisions, having recently invested in an Arrowquip squeeze crush with digital scales to get accurate weights before they turn the calves out to grass and return for weaning.

On what would be considered a low input system, the calves are achieving 1.10kg daily live weight gain in the first seven months.

To extend the stock bulls use, John synchronises and AI’s the heifers, selecting sires with favourable breeding values for easy calving, maternal milk and length.

John used the AI firms Greensons Howlett and Lego with good success and this year has tried sexed semen with nine of the 12 heifers in calf to Tremlows Officer.

His most recent bought in stock bulls are Gallaber Maxamus and Gallaber Sydney from Ian Sedgewick, who is renowned locally for selling Limousin that perform consistently on the commercial circuit.

John says he would encourage other upland farmers to consider buying a Limousin bull in the autumn sales because of the breed's efficiency and commercial return.