Out and About with Malcolm Fawcett

...a Luing Council Member who farms with his parents in the Dumfries-shire hills. The Fawcett family are renowned for presenting top drawer bulling heifers at the society's premier sale in February:

The Merkland herd has been established for 24 years now but we have had Luings for nearly 30 years. After seeing Luings at John Cameron's Monzie, and whilst still farming at Uldale in the Pennines on the Cumbrian/Yorkshire border, father bought a few cows locally and a couple out of Stirling. Around thirty cows and fifteen bulling heifers moved north to Merkland in May 1983 - pure Luings, X Luings and Angus Xs with all the bulling heifers sired by a Luing bull.

Merkland lies between 600ft and 1800 ft and runs to 2283 acres, 400 of which are fields and improved hill. At the time of moving this farm carried 1260 ewes so we saw cattle as ideal roughage converters and aimed to build up to 60 - 70 cows. With the addition of 130 acres of fields, we now carry 100+ cows and 1650 Blackface ewes. Cow numbers have dropped recently due to 45% of our herd being born pre August 1996 when the OCD scheme was introduced two years ago. Shows how well Luing cattle last! We hope to build back up to 120 cows by the end of next year.

The herd is predominantly spring calving (March/April), mostly bred pure, with the rest calving August/September to the Simmental bull. Heifers calve down at 33 months old. They run with the bull for 6 weeks and anything not in calf at that stage is either put to the Simmental or culled. Spring born calves are weaned in early November and fed on ad-lib silage and 1.5kg of beet pulp/dark grains throughout the winter. Bullocks are sold store in March at Castle Douglas and this year averaged £495 at 400kg. Heifers not required for stock are sold at Society sales. Back-end born bullock calves are sold straight off their mothers in May with the heifers sold at Stirling in October aged 12/13 months.

Spring calvers go to the hill after weaning until mid December when they are housed on a diet of straw/silage and a kilo of dark grains/beet pulp. They used to go back onto the hill as soon as they had calved but this was causing pollution problems from the feed stance so a shed was erected and the cows and calves stay on straw/sawdust bedded courts until turnout in May. Only heifers for the pedigree Luing sale are now outwintered.

Over the years several Luing bulls have been used. The first purchase was Craigdarroch March-On followed by Luing Whinchat, Ettrickshaws Cruiser, Benhar Landward and Monzie VIP who all left useful cows. In 1993 we bought Dirnanean Rocky - a very big bull in his day weighing in at 910kg. He was used extensively throughout our herd putting size and a deep red colour into it. These cows have worked hard for us producing good, scouthy calves - some of them still going strong at 13 years old. Current stock bulls include Dirnanean Dakota, Merkland Endeavour (a homebred son of Benhar Zemin) and Luing Admiral.

At the time of writing, looking to the future is not too easy when fields are full of store and breeding lambs with an uncertain prospect of selling them to advantage...but a cow that can rear a calf with little assistance year in year out with a great temperament, longevity and hopefully midge repellent will surely help us along!