An easily managed, low input cow that suits the system at Commonside is the name of the game for the families Luing cattle herd, based at Hawick.

Fiona and Graham Cakebread are the third generation to look after the running of Commonside, along with their three daughters Caitlyn (11) Amy (9) and Lucy (3), with Fiona’s mother, Kirsty still involved in the business. The 80 Luing cattle and 1400 Cheviots run over 2500 acres, to a top of 1300ft above sea level.

The hill reaches 1300ft above sea level at Commonside

“The Luing cattle suit the ground here, they are ideal to manage the hill grazing. She is an extremely hardy, good natured and a milky mother that can rear a strong calf in any weather for a competitive commercial market,” commented Graham, the family also have a full time cattle man, Martin Steel to help along the way.

One of the biggest challenges at Commonside is the weather, which can cause issues for the family and the wet ground that it leaves, hence the need for a hardy animal.

“It is something that is out with our control, although it causes us hassle at times, we have to constantly adapt and overcome its challenges, it is never going to change.” said Graham.

Another more recent challenge has been just last year when Graham picked up an issue within their herd of low cow fertility and knew they had to do something about it as it was at an all time low.

Luing cattle showing their hardy nature on the hill

“We came to the conclusion that it was an energy issue with the cows, it isn’t easy for a cow to have a calf, nurse the calf and be back in calve that year, all on marginal ground here,” explained Graham, who organised a bespoke product with Davidsons Animal Feeds to overcome this.

The outcome was, Davidsons Energiser Excel Roll. A high energy diet, triple starch formulation of Maize, Barley and Wheat to achieve optimum rumen balance.

“Not only has this product tightened our calving period, we have had a 60% reduction in empty cows which is just unbelievable within a year,” added Graham, who has now stopped using feed buckets to ensure all cattle are receiving a balanced diet throughout the bulling period.

During the winter the Sim-Luing cattle will be housed on slats

Commonside will put half of the Luings to a Simmental bull to produce the Sim-Luing, these cows require a little extra care throughout the year and will be brought inside during the winter, whilst the pure Luings will be left on the hill.

“We believe that the Simmental adds value in the market place, they are a very popular suckler cow and hit the commercial demand. They are still a strong hardy breed that strives on marginal ground.”

“Although everything is calved indoors in the spring for management ease, it is still crucial we breed calves that are vigorous and quick to their feet,” added Fiona.

The Luing females are either kept as replacements or sold as bulling heifers, with the strongest of the bull calves being kept entire and sold the following February at Castle Douglas. The team had a field year back in 2013 when they sold Commonside Nick for 10,000gns, making history for the farm. This year the team have two bulls to sell which are sons of Craigdarroch Torres and the last son of Luing Norton.

Whilst the Sim-Luing heifers will be exchanged as yearlings to a regular buyer, the bullocks are sold store at seven to eight months old and this year averaged £810.

All of the cows carrying Simmental calves will be brought inside in November, whilst the pure Luings will be out-wintered on the hill.

“Being a predominantly hill farm, we have the scope to out winter. With the Luing being such a hardy breed they thrive outside. Feeding Davidsons Suckler Rolls the cows do very well, this keeps our out wintering costs and work load to a minimum.” added Graham.

Peering heads of some of the 60 pedigree Luing herd

To help manage the hill, the 1400 North Country Cheviots are all lambed outside in two sets, with the top of the hill scanning around 115% and the bottom end of the hill hitting 150%.

“The Cheviots suit the ground here, they are a hardy, strong and versatile breed that maximises our outputs, they have tremendous mothering abilities producing stock to suit the commercial and pedigree markets” said Graham.

The fat lambs will be sold through Longtown hitting around 38-40kg averaging £81 this year. However the majority of the lambs will be sold store, either privately to regular buyers on farm, or through the ring at Longtown and St Boswells.

It isn’t just the commercial market that the family hit, the best of the tup lambs will be kept for breeding at Commonside as shearlings and then selling as two-shears at either Lockerbie or Oban.

It has also been an exceptional year for the North Country Cheviot flock, when they achieved their best price to date of £7000 at Lockerbie. The two-shear, Commonside X Factor, was the first crop of sons by the £3200 Philiphaugh Target, and out of a Seaforth sired-ewe. This year the 12 tups sold through the live markets balanced out at £1250

Another future proof of the business is the pedigree Texel flock, now running 25 ewes. This is Graham’s ‘hobby’ as he supports local shows throughout the summer, bagging many championships along the way.

The Texels are lambed inside from March. With ewe lambs being retained to replenish the flock, whilst the best of the tup lambs head to Kelso ram sales as shearlings. Having bagged the pre-sale show champion for two consecutive years in ring 18 and 19. The 12 tups last year averaged £900 with a top of £1900.

Looking after the hill is the number one priority, with there being no alternative to cattle and sheep grazing in such rough parts.

“We have recently invested in riparian woodland plantations on some wetter parts of the hill, this will complement our hill land management by providing winter shelter and supporting wildlife. However this doesn’t take anything away from our need to keep livestock on the hills.” said Fiona

“Native breeds are definitely on the up, with hardy, easily managed and low input Luings in the forefront of the revival. We wouldn’t have it any other way here, we love what we do and try to enjoy every minute.” concluded Graham

Photo credit to The Scottish Farmer