Out and About with Gareth Lawton

...with Gareth Lawton of Brookstone Farm, a small hill farm In North Wales with land ranging from 650ft - 1200 ft which is the home to Brookstone Luings.

A total of 128 acres is owned, and a further 36 is rented. 84 acres is grassland that is used for silage production and summer grazing, the remaining 44 is the rough mountain ground where the cows are out wintered and remain until the summer grazing is dry enough for them to go on. The rented 36 acres is 12 acres of grazing ground and 24 acres first cut silage then grazing for young stock.

Up until 2006 Brookstone Farm had run Salers cows, originally all bred pedigree and had enjoyed some success in show rings up and down the country, but when the decision was made to stop showing the cows were crossed to a Charolais bull. The calving season in 2006 was another difficult one, and with some of the weaned calves from the previous year displaying higher than average temperament problems, the late Bill Brook decided it was time for a change, and he wasn't the type of man to do things by halves. He had been reading about the Luing cattle sales in the farming press and after a trip to the Beef Expo in Carlisle in 2006 with a view to looking at various breeds, the Luing stand was the first stop, and that was where the search ended. After talking to some society members his mind was made up. He went to the Westwater dispersal sale and purchased five cows and thirteen bulling heifers and whilst up in Scotland he purchased our first Luing bull, Harehead Disco. He came back and it was a case of out with the old and in with the new. The two Charolais Bulls went to new homes, and every Saler cow was sold, either in calf or with a calf at foot. From then on it was only going to be Luing cattle on the farm. We returned to Stirling that same year and bought five more heifers, and then further purchases in Stirling and Oban in 2007 and Castle Douglas in 2008 when six heifers and the second Luing bull, Welbeck Hildago, was purchased. Dirnanean Foreman was purchased privately in 2008.

The plan was to keep everything pure Luing, but after the calving in 2009 when 19 of the 24 calves born were male, and considering the local market is very much driven by continental crosses a decision was made to buy a Simmental bull. The thinking behind the idea was simple; if we have another run of predominantly male calves we should be able to produce a steer more suitable to the local market, whilst heifer calves, if good enough will be sold at the society sale in Stirling or else through the store ring at the local market. The aim now is to keep forty pedigree females, twenty of which will go to the Simmental, ten to Dirnanean Foreman and ten to Welbeck Hildago. Keeping three bulls for forty cows may seem extravagant to some, but when your biggest field is only 12 acres, it is impossible to run one herd of forty or even two herds of twenty.

The system is very simple with the Luing cows, they live out all year round, and are fed only grass silage on a hard standing in the winter. The only time they spend inside is approx three weeks when they calve. A cow is brought in ten days before she is due and remains inside for ten days with her calf; they are then turned back out onto the winter grazing. Calves are weaned at eight months old, some heifers are kept as replacements or to build the herd numbers up and they are calved at two years old. Surplus heifers will be sold at society sales if they are good enough, everything else will go through the store ring at the local market at 18 - 20 months old. The cattle we aim to present at society sales are housed for the first winter after weaning, and then out wintered for the second winter until just before Christmas when they come in so they get used to being handled and get cleaned up ready for the Castle Douglas sale ring.

We have found Luing cows suit our farming system very well, their temperament is excellent, they require very little input, they out winter on grass silage with no additional feed etc., produce a healthy calf on time every year and mainly with no assistance and then go on to rear a good calf through the summer off grass alone. Whatever route we go down in the future, the females of Brookstone Farm will always be pure Luings. The decision to make the change was probably the best farming decision Bill made, and although he didn't live long enough to see his plan come to fruition, I don't think he would have regretted it for a moment.