It is 16 years since the business of Robin H Bell ventured onto its Luing journey at Plenderleith, which lies east of the Carter Bar.

Plenderleith is 1,550 acres of hill and 290 acres of grass fields, stocking 100+ cows and 700 Blackface ewes. Almost half of the field ground was reclaimed since taking rent of the farm in 1947.

Until the Luing herd was started, spring-calving Simmental cross cows were summered at Plenderleith and wintered inside on home-grown barley and straw with cattle courts rented locally to winter youngstock.

When summer grass availability reduced, the cows moved to the hill, but neither the cows nor the rough hill benefitted much. The large-framed cows didn’t perform on the vegetation available and they only covered the more palatable bits.

The Northern Farmer: Luing cattle at Plenderleith, near Carter Bar

The search for a cow that would be able to forage the hill ground more effectively led to Luings, which have proven to be ideally suited to the farm.

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The added attraction was that having had a pedigree Simmental herd since 1973, breeding Sim-Luings was a logical option, and thus the Plenderleith herd was born. Today, approximately 100 cows and heifers go to the bull – half going to Simmental bulls.

The Northern Farmer: Stock cows due to calve in March

What have we learned from the Luing experience?

  • Temperament is the most important trait and the attitude of the Luing cattle here is excellent. One person can move a mob easily and working with them can be a pleasure!
  • Calving is rarely an issue and without doubt, the best place for a Luing to calve is outside. There has been an improvement in teat size over the period – no doubt due in part to the Dam Classification – it’s rare to find a calf, born out on the hill, that hasn’t suckled.
  • The fertility of the Plenderleith cows is not a problem, as long as there is a basic mineral provision – the Cheviot Hills are cobalt and copper deficient. The average number of twins in the last five years is six for the 100-odd put to the bull. Luing cows produce a good calf from the poorest of land. Simm-Luings are possibly the most under-rated suckler cow in the country – they will suit nearly every system.
  • Straightaway it was evident that the Luing cows spread the ground better, due to their increased foraging ability. They can be seen on all parts of the hill areas, which was not the case when thinner skinned cattle were summered on the hill.

Most of the cows only come through the yards twice a year – at weaning when they are pregnancy and Johne’s tested, then in January to get a flukicide.

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Having replaced the outside feed barrier with self-locking yokes, it is hoped that cows will hardly need to go through the crush. This should be a boon for times of labour shortage and for health and safety.

As a tenant, putting the hill ground into forestry is not an option. The Luings have proven that with appropriate supplementation they can utilize the poor quality roughage and improve it – which benefits the sheep too. As long as the cow type is suitable there is a place for a Luing at Plenderleith.