Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.
Lowther Beef Shorthorns
Easily managed Beef Shorthorns are proving to be the ideal cattle for an organic farm in Cumbria’s Eden Valley.
Against the prospects of a changing subsidy system, conversion to organic status began six years ago at Nord Vue, Armathwaite, near Carlisle.
Nord Vue is owned by Charles Lowther who believed that the Beef Shorthorn would perfectly fit the system on the 700 acre unit well as having the ability to provide beef with superior eating qualities.
Charles Lowther also owns Lowther Park Farms, near Penrith, with his brother Jim and father the Earl of Lonsdale, working closely with Lowther’s managing director John Reid, and while Nord Vue is run as a separate business, the two collaborate in a number of areas, including the high quality organic meat sales business begun two years ago.
|Charles Lowther with his Beef Shorthorn heifers|
The 40 cow Lowther Shorthorn herd was established with bought in heifers during 2002 and 2003, taking its name from the original herd at Lowther which existed for 140 years, and they run alongside a flock of 1,000 Lleyn cross ewes as well as 500 pigs which are contract reared.
At Nord Vue a livery yard in the 19th century purpose built stable block for 12 horses and Cumbria’s only outdoor Olympic size competition arena under construction and cross country ride this spring is also being successfully run alongside a sandstone facing business producing Lazonby red sandstone products as well as facing stone.
“I thought that of all the traditional breeds the Beef Shorthorn had the possibility of being a good suckler cow. I figured because the Belgian Blue had been bred from the Shorthorn, there must be muscling ability in the breed which is where I want to improve my herd’s dam lines through embryos sourced from a wider gene pool abroad,” said Charles Lowther.
“The Shorthorn is not too deep and appeals to the UK market because it is a tighter gutted animal than some traditional breeds. It would be perfect to add that little bit more muscle to the rump.
“I see this as a five to 10 year breeding programme to make them more competitive within the commercial sector, yet while retaining all the benefits of the breed.
“The Beef Shorthorn is a dual purpose breed. The femininity has to be one of the main breeding credentials but I believe that if the breed is going to be competitive in this country it has to have muscling to complement its other great attributes such as milking ability, ease of management, hardiness, ease of fleshing and temperament.”
|Cows and spring born calves in the Lowther herd on the slopes of Blaze Fell above the River Eden.|
Another factor which decided Charles Lowther on the breed was when he did his dissertation at university on the eating qualities of meat, beef in particular, where the Shorthorn proved its superior qualities.
“The Shorthorn suits our system here at Nord Vue. They are very docile and easily managed – we haven’t had to calve one this spring. They have good locomotion and no foot problems as well as having plenty of frame and bone,” said Charles Lowther.
“We run the whole operation with three employees and our only costs for the cows are around six tonnes of silage, vaccination costs for IBR, leptospirosis and BVD, mineral licks and boluses because of deficiencies in the ground
At last year’s Carlisle May sale the Lowther herd took the championship and top price of 3,800gns with the heifer Lowther Lilac by stock bull Sherlock.
At the February 2006 Perth sale Lowther Shona, also by Sherlock, out of a cow from Jane and Bill Landers’ Cairnsmoor herd sold for 4,000gns.
Last year the herd also had great success in the show ring, in particular with retained stock bull Lowther Excalibur, winning the Beef Shorthorn junior champion bull at the Great Yorkshire Show and with breed championships at Carlisle and Penrith shows.
A draft of three home-bred heifers open for bulling, all by Sherlock, is entered for Harrison & Hetherington’s Beef Shorthorn sale on Friday May 26 at Borderway Mart, Carlisle.
Despite discouragement from his father Lord Lonsdale who grew up with the breed at Lowther, Charles who took over running the farm at only 23 has stuck to his guns.
Nord Vue, which includes 100 acres of woodland, has 400 acres of permanent pasture running up to a height of 755ft of rough grazing on Blaze Fell where the stone quarry was started this year.
A three year ley predominantly red clover sward, which includes perennial ryegrass, Timothy and white clover, has been grown in the rotation on 60 acres to provide silage for the cattle and sheep.
The clover is followed in the rotation by barley and now the contract reared pigs. Organic carrots, parsnips and potatoes are also being considered as part of the rotation.
Lucerne is also being grown this year on 20 acres and if this is successful on the dry, sandy ground it could replace the red clover as it costs half the price of organic grass seed and is a five year ley.
The April-May calving herd are out-wintered on fields which will be ploughed out for spring barley.
Two months pre-calving the cows are fed on barley straw which has been undersown with the red clover ley.
They calve on fields near the farm before being turned out onto the fell where they remain all summer, being fed supplementary silage if the grazing is insufficient in the spring.
The calves are creep fed from August and weaned in November when they are housed for their first winter during which time they receive supplementary feed.
New cattle housing will enable pedigree bullocks to be accommodated next winter, and be finished for either Dovecote Park or the Lowther organic meat scheme.
The replacement policy is very selective with only six heifers born in 2005 being retained.
Heifers calve at two years old and, to date, all the herd has been served by stock bulls. The herd’s current three bulls are Lowther Excalibur, Chapelton Warrior and Uppermill Sherlock
|Four heifers, three ofwhich are entered for the Carlisle sale|
Currently the beef system at Lowther Park Farms is under review and the Beef Shorthorn may be used on the continental crossbreds, numbers of which are being reduced from 400 to 200 because of subsidy changes
Organic production began at Lowther two years ago with chicken and now 1,000 organic free range birds are sold on a weekly basis.
The business has developed its own slower maturing breed particulalry suited to organic systems and patented it as the Lakeland Ranger and it is also moving into supplying organic day old chicks and organic egg production.
Lowther and Nord Vue complement each other with their different land types – Lowther being heavier land while the sandy Eden Valley soil is ideal for outdoor pigs.
Landrace and Duroc gilts and boars are finished at 500 at a time on contract for R and V Matherson, of Elgin, Inverness, with some going through Lowther’s own organic meat business and the remainder for Sainsbury’s organic pork, Tulip and Cranswick and Grampian.
The pigs are brought onto farm at between eight and 10 weeks old weighing around 40kg. Each unit of 50 pigs is run on 0.7 acre paddocks, cleaning up and fertilising the ground.
The units each have access to a straw bedded tent. The finishing period is two and a half months taking weights up to 100kg killing out at up to 74.5 per cent. They are raised on a fixed price per head with a grading bonus
Once the pigs have gone, the ground will be put down to game crop kale for the farm’s shoot and sheep followed by barley the following spring.
Nord Vue’s crossbred Lleyns are gradually being bred pure with up to 200 being put back to the Lleyn each year and the remainder crosses with the Texel, Charollais, Beltex cross and this year the hoggs have been crossed with the lighter bones Zwartble.
With the opening in February of Junction 38 meat cutting plant at Tebay in Cumbria the businesses now plan to market home-produced lamb, beef and pork, which until now have been sold through conventional outlets, under their own brand.