West Preston Open Day

By Elaine Murray and Johnny Mackey

Around 300 visitors basked in some glorious sunshine on the Solway coast on 14th August 2010 during Steven & Elaine Murray's open day at West Preston. It is worth mentioning the weather right from the outset, as like the 2009 event at Attonburn, the lead up to the day saw some appalling wet weather and therefore some very nervous hosts and Society officials.

The good weather, whilst of course very welcome, unfortunately meant some local farmers were too busy baling straw or harvesting second-cut silage to attend. However the 300 or so that did enjoyed an excellent opening address from local farmer and QMS Chairman, Donald Biggar.

Rockcliffe Luings first stop on the Tour

The first stop on the farm tour was host farmer and Society Vice-Chairman Steven Murray in a field with heifers running with the bull Rockcliffe Hero. Steven described the farm as being bought in 2003 when 420 acres were split with the RSPB. Steven and Elaine bought the better land and RSPB got the poorer grazing which was ideal for the barnacle geese to graze over the winter. The Rockcliffe herd was re-established after the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 which took out all the stock. Originally cows came from Luing, Springfield and Castlecreavie. To begin with a Simmental Bull was used to breed Sim-Luings and a Luing Bull, Behar Boxer, was purchased to breed herd replacements. Boxer is still on the farm and is used as one of the main stock bulls due to his positive influence on the herd.

When West Preston was purchased in 2003 the steading allowed the Murrays to finish steer calves. When the first batch of steers went away prime, no difference was found in weights, grades or time to finishing between pure Luings and cross-bred Luings, so it was decided to sell the Simmental bull. The aim was now to breed pure Luings in order to increase the herd rapidly due to the farm suiting cattle rather than sheep. The next stock bull purchased was Wooplaw Yangtze and a son of his, Buckholm Dixie. This bloodline, especially Dixie's, has left a big mark on the herd. Almost two thirds of the cows will be daughters by Boxer or Dixie bloodlines. In recent years when cow numbers were built up to 120, bulls like Attonburn Falcon, Merkland Cracker and Dirnanean Ensign have been used. The new stock bulls are Harehead Hickory who was breeding well, and Benhar Kyle (purchased very recently at the Premier Sale in February 2010).

The aim is to breed cows not too big with a mature weight of around 650kg that out winter well and breed regularly with few problems. As the Murrays were re-stocking from a lot of different sources, it has taken a while to get the cows to the type desired. The bulls purchased are doing the job as bull calves are finishing heaver and quicker each year enabling any cows not rearing a good enough calf to be identified and moved into the cull group.

Managing the grazing on the farm can be a bit tricky as most of the grazing land is owned by RSPB and their priorities are for managing the land for bird life and not cattle; although Steven made the point strongly of the cattle being needed to manage the grassland for the birds! A lot of the grazing land is only available for 4-5 months after the ground nesting birds have fledged and the geese return in late September by which time the ground has to be vacated.

The remainder of the farm tour saw talks from the local RSPB manager David Fairlamb who covered how the management works at West Preston for grazing the RSPB land; this included the benefits of cattle grazing on these habitats, information on bird surveys carried out in the area and tips for farmers to manage cattle whilst benefiting biodiversity. David's talk proved to be incredibly popular with several visitors commenting on how much they had enjoyed it upon returning to the steading. Rhidian Jones of SAC also gave a very informative talk on the Murray's outwintering system using strip-grazed kale and the cattle health policy for Rockcliffe Luings was expertly covered by Susan Duthie & Kate Mellanby from Biobest Herdcare together with Hugh Dickson of the Bard Vet Group.

Back at the Steading

There was plenty for visitors to see and do once back at the very clean and tidy steading (thanks to the efforts of the entire Murray clan and in particular Steven & Elaine's daughters Heather and Hazel). Society Breed Development Officer Robert McNee once again ran a very popular demonstration on the Society's Dam Classification Scheme. Having finished at Robert's demo, activities such as stockjudging and ‘guess the weight of the bull' competitions got underway. Some fantastic prizes were on offer from event sponsors such as Solway Recycling and local artist Josephine McSkimming. The social side of proceedings took off with some delicious roast beef rolls provided by Hog2roast as well as the increasingly popular fresh fruit once again supplied by Blairgowrie Farm Shop.

Sponsorship and bar profits

We were very grateful to the eighteen companies who were generous in their sponsorship of the event, namely Wallets Mart, RSPB, Biobest, Wicks, Tarff Valley, Tithebarn, Gordons Machinery, SAC, NFU Mutual, Pzifer, Murray Farmcare, AK Farm Services, Bard Vet Group, Tough Trailers, Solway Recycling, Roshglen Farm Services, RH Davidsons & Sons Transport and Galloway Primestock. Steven and Elaine had arranged for profits from the bar to go to the local First Responders group to help with the purchase of a defibrillator for use in emergency situations in the area. The impressive sum of £313.68 was raised for this very worthy cause.

Open Day 2011

Less of an Open Day and more of an Open Week this one. The board has decided to go for a slightly smaller scale more focused event for 2011 and the Orcadian breeders have put their hand up and volunteered! The open day itself will take place on Tuesday 16th August based around two herds (Brian Ridland's Silwick Luings and Stewart Wood's Garson Luings) with a few more events planned either side such as various tourist attractions, cattle sales at Orkney mart and visits to other Luing herds and commercial herds. Besides the open day however, members may wish to coincide their visit to Orkney with the island's biggest agricultural event, the County Show, on Saturday 13th August. More information to follow in the spring and summer newsletters as well as the website.