Producing female progeny to suit both finishing and breeding markets is the main aim for father and son duo, Richard and Christopher Thornton, who run their Limousin herd at Cornhills, Kirkwhelpington.

“Limousin guarantees us a consistency that no other breed can give us for growth rate, carcase quality and uniformity. Add to this the mobility and longevity of the breed and there is no other that can offer us the all-round benefits of producing store cattle and suckler cows,” explained Christopher, who runs 110 suckler cows.

Some 70% of these are Limousin cross British Blue cows, with the rest first cross Limousin or Blues out of the dairy herd, of which a handful are brought in each year as replacements.

This suckler herd is run over 500 acres situated in the heart of Northumberland at 800 feet above sea level, with the land ranging from heavy loam to peat bog gradually reclaimed over the years, all SDA with rocky outcrops.

While other breeds have been tried and tested for the suckler herd at Cornhills, Richard first became interested in the Limousin breed almost 50 years ago when he bought a cross-bred black Limmy-bred foster calf to set on a cow.

Richard and his father were one of the very first people to purchase a Lim bull from Carlisle at the anniversary sale in 1975, where he remembered being impressed by the length of the bulls as well as the excellent conformation.

“Our first bull was Wintershall Jonathon – by one of the original French imports, Funambule – from the same stable as the noted Wintershall Jupiter who was owned by the Milk Marketing Board. We paid 560gns for him,” said Richard, who then sold their first Limousin-cross store cattle at Scots Gap Mart in the mid-1970s.

There, the sight of these shapely store cattle appearing in a Northumberland mart attracted considerable attention from a lot of farmers who had not seen such conformation and length in Scots Gap before.

The team are still renowned for producing the very best of commercial livestock, with a reputation for bringing out top quality Limousin-cross store cattle.

Stores are sold in even batches at Hexham Auction Marts mainly to repeat customers, with around 90 leaving the farm in the autumn. Last year the 48 sold in October cashed in at £1285 through Hexham and Northern Marts’ Annual Limousin Day, with the remainder heading away at regular intervals, also through Hexham, on the run up to Christmas.

Richard added: “We are more and more seeing a trend of buyers purchasing our heifers for breeding, with the best ones going for bulling rather than finishing. Last year, 17 of the 24 at the special Limousin sale at Hexham, in October, went for breeding.”

To ensure this level bunch of store cattle at round 16 months of age, calving takes place outside in May and 80% of cows are calved in four weeks with calving finished by the end of June.

Heifers are all calved in the spring at three-years of age which suits the Thorntons’ system. That decision is backed up by the need for a strong framed mother and the fact that the first-calved heifers are kept outside on stewardship ground for what is their third winter before calving where they are outwintered with a 'bit of hay in bad weather' and around 1kg of concentrate feed per day – something which would not be possible with younger females.

Added to this is a good Limousin cull cow price which goes a long way towards buying a replacement – two 10-year-old cows recently went away at £1360 apiece.

The calves stay on their mothers until they are 9-10 months old which helps stop the cows getting too fit and means the Thorntons have very few assisted calvings. Paddles are used on the calves for weaning which has proved very successful.

Weaning is towards the end of February or beginning of March when cows drop back onto a mainly straw regime where they are kept at a maintenance level until calving down in May.

Housing is from November onwards mostly on cubicles with cows fed a silage-based ration plus minerals. Calves have their own lying and creep area with their own silage and around 1-1.5kg of beef nuts.

Calves are weighed at housing and again at turnout where they then benefit from the flush at grass. Around 115 acres of silage are made in a single cut end-June or early July. A further notable advantage of the Lim-cross cattle is that they respond very well with compensatory growth if they lose any condition and soon bounce back.

Their four bulls run with the 110-strong suckler cows aimed at maintaining as tight a calving pattern as possible. As they are also keeping their own heifers, bulls are chosen for their frame and shape, with a strong emphasis placed on temperament which also helps with a growing breeding heifer market adding value to the business with the daughters of first cross dairy-bred mothers kept for themselves for breeding.

Richard said: “We calve down from May so usually turn the bulls out mid-July. We like to have new bulls settle down well before then and place emphasis first and foremost on health status with figures, particularly calving ease, also playing a part in the bull selection process.”

The cattle run alongside 100 pure Texel breeding sheep and 400 commercial ewes comprising of Texel crosses and Cheviot Mules. Although the main enterprise relies in the cattle it is important to put your eggs in various baskets when it comes to the future.

“We have had considerable interest and enquiries about our cattle that will be for sale this autumn, so prospects are looking promising in the short term, however in the longer-term things are much less clear.

“Climate change, consumer demand, all will have a bearing. British beef is a quality product produced to the highest standards and as long as there is a demand for our cattle, we will produce them, so long may it continue,” they concluded.