Stephen Graham is fine-tuning the beef and sheep systems at Miller Hill Farm – sited near Hadrian’s wall in north Cumbria – to help with ease of management, whilst maintaining quality in the finished stock they produce.

The focus has been to change the breeding policy of the suckler herd, moving away from muscly cattle and to maintain a good lambing percentage from quality ewes.

Stephen is the third generation of the family to farm at Miller Hill and he and his wife, Tracey, farm 550 acres, which includes 150 rented lowland acres at nearby Lanercost. The ground is all grass and at Miller Hill the land rises to 800ft and is in the SDA.


Miller Hill is home to the Graham family, which have been farming there for three generations Ref:RH150222059

Miller Hill is home to the Graham family, which have been farming there for three generations Ref:RH150222059


They employ a part time man and daughter, Rachael (18), also works at home as well as off the farm in two different roles. Youngest daughter, Amy (16), is also keen to work in the business. Tracey, as well as helping on the farm, has run an outside catering business for 16 years.

“Making a profit with suckler cattle and commercial sheep is down to a very fine line, it is so important that all the stock is kept healthy and you have minimal visits from your local vet, with as much ease of management as possible, whilst always planning and looking forward into the future,” said Stephen.

Several years ago the emphasis changed from producing calves at the 'top of the tree' to having a more practical cow that pays its way. Previously, the farm was running British Blue/Limousin cross cows. Now, the herd comprises 100 three-quarter Limousins which are put to a black Limousin bull.

“When calving, getting as many live calves as possible is very important, keeping them alive after birth and them continuing to thrive is a key part of management,” said Stephen.

“With the profit margins not high from suckler cows after all costs have all been deducted, the aim is to sell as many calves as possible. However, not everything always works out to plan, and you always lose the odd one or two.

“Cows that produce good milk and rear their calf easily are what works the best for us, over the years we have moved away from having muscly three-quarter continental cows to mostly three-quarter Limousins. Through choice, these are mainly black in colour and display good length and style, have good feet and hopefully an abundance of milk.


The herd comprises 100 three-quarter Limousins which are put to a Black Limousin bull Ref:RH150222044

The herd comprises 100 three-quarter Limousins which are put to a Black Limousin bull Ref:RH150222044


“We have found by not having as many highly muscled cows, there is a lot less calving assistance required and we get more live calves on the ground. It is a very fine line between having something good and something too good – it sometimes causes more problems than it’s worth! We are also producing more live calves per head than we were 10 years ago. ”

The priority now is to breed calves for size and shape but not as muscle-bound. “We find with the cattle that are heading to pure breeding, they are a rib shorter and two inches smaller.”

Registered black Limousin bulls have been found to produce calves with the right amount of shape which are easily calved but finding the right black bull has been proving more difficult and more costly with Stephen paying £13,000 for the last herd sire.

Most black bulls are polled and Stephen is finding the calves they produce tend to be slack behind the shoulder. Bulls with red genetics tend not to have this trait, he said.

Around 20 replacement heifers enter the herd each year, half of which are home-bred the remainder are bought in Limousin cross heifers at a year to 15 months old. They go through a strict regime of tests before joining the herd.

All potential replacements are pelvic scored and blood tested for Johnes disease. Temperament is very important too with limited staffing. A batch is usually gathered where first initial checks are made and then repeated later, anything that displays a bad temperament goes into the finishing sheds.

Hard black feet, which tend to come through well with the black Limousin breeding, are also preferred to help prevent digital dermatitis.

Heifers are calved from two years to 30 months of age to prevent them getting too big and to get them to earn money sooner. “We’re trying to calve them as early as possible to stop them becoming big cows which then tent to produce a big calf. We are wanting a 600-700kg cow, not one weighing 800kg to a tonne.


These prime heifers will be sold either live through Harrison and Hetherington Mart at Carlisle or direct deadweight to Woodhead’s or ABP Ref:RH150222049

These prime heifers will be sold either live through Harrison and Hetherington Mart at Carlisle or direct deadweight to Woodhead’s or ABP Ref:RH150222049


“The heifers need a bit more attention at calving, but it produces the size of cow we want and we find they last longer,” said Stephen.

Cows start to calve mid-April, but most of the herd calves during the months of April, May, and June, this enables for them to be managed for condition while been housed in the winter months.

The later calving cows are turned out in mid-May, as their due dates approach, they are brought back nearer home into a field or a shed weather dependant so that they can be closely monitored.

The cows are housed from late October. At housing calves are left on their mothers for several weeks before weaning and they are given three treatments – injected with Cosamectin for fluke, and given intranasal treatments for IBR and Rispoval 3, as well as a multi-vitamin drench once a month.

Until housing, they receive no concentrate feed when they are fed a three to one mix of calf rearing pellets and sugar beet pulp – the beet pulp helping to slow them down. Mortality is improved by not pushing the calves.

Reducing vet bills has been a priority and to further improve cattle health, housing has been looked at closely with sides of existing buildings being opened to improve ventilation and air flow.

The metal cubicle dividers have been removed from the building and the lying area has been fitted with rubber mats which are bedded with sawdust which is helping to reduce digital dermatitis and cut down on bought-in straw usage.

The cows are fed silage, minerals and straw through a feeder wagon. The amount of straw fed is calculated using the silage analysis to help the cows maintain a good condition at calving. The aim is to finish as many cattle as possible but if housing is tight, some are sold store.

With prices of cattle sold over the past 12 months good for high quality stock, many sold from Miller Hill have achieved £100 per month of age sold (17 months @ £1700) and prices achieved have ranged from £1500-£2000 throughout the year.

The aim is to sell five or six finished cattle a week. The sheds are usually clear of cattle by the mid to end of June so that they can be pressure washed out and disinfected to prevent any potential disease spread.


Miller Hill farm sits close to Hadrians Wall, near Brampton, in Cumbria Ref:RH150222060

Miller Hill farm sits close to Hadrian's Wall, near Brampton, in Cumbria Ref:RH150222060


The cattle are sold either live through Harrison and Hetherington Mart at Carlisle, or direct dead weight to Woodhead’s or ABP. On average bullocks are weighing 600-700kg live and heifers 530-630kg live at 16-20 months old.

Stephen said: “The trend for cattle has very much changed over the years, most local butchers are now sourcing prime cattle with as much fat cover as possible compared to six years ago when fat was not really desired.

“During the Covid pandemic, prices of stock had been helped due to the population of the UK very much supporting local butchers. They have discovered that locally sourced food with traceability and quality produce is better for them.

“Selling cattle live through the local livestock markets is very convenient because you can sell them at any age or time that suits you best. Selling direct deadweight also has its benefits, such as getting vital feedback on grades and killing out data, and the health of your cattle, and this helps you greatly with your planning and management of your livestock,” added Stephen.

Miller Hill has always been known for breeding top quality cattle and there are always some good available to show and sell at the Christmas prime-stock shows.

In 2021, five cattle were shown between Carlisle and Hexham Marts and Rachael, who has a very keen interest, won first prize in YFC class at Carlisle along with second prize bullock, which stood in a strong class of 11 quality cattle on the same day.

At Hexham she again won first prize in the YFC class as well as going on to achieve first prize Limousin heifer and reserve overall champion on the day.

There are 600 ewes to lamb this year from mid-March onwards with the ewe lambs starting on April 20. They are mainly Texel cross Mule ewes put to Texel cross Beltex and Dutch Texel rams.

Around 50 Mule gimmer lambs or shearlings are bought each year as re-placements for the foundation flock and they are put to the Texel to breed replacements.

While the aim is to produce a good lambing percentage, too prolific a ewe has caused problems with more than a third of the flock in a previous year having triplets

Finished lambs are sold at Longtown mart on a Thursday from late July onwards. Rachael works part time at the mart and once Stephen has dropped them off, she sells them.

This avoids Stephen spending unnecessary time at the market when he can be at home doing a day’s work. The aim is to sell lambs three weeks out of every month until the end of January.


Texel cross Mules are put to Texel cross Beltex rams and finished lambs sold through Longtown mart Ref:RH150222056

Texel cross Mules are put to Texel cross Beltex rams and finished lambs sold through Longtown mart Ref:RH150222056


Prices for finished lambs have been good, with only 120 hogg lambs left to sell at the beginning of February this year, they have averaged £126.90 per life, which is £23 up on on the year, but this has to take into account rising input costs.

Half the lambs are usually sheared in late August and they will be sold from mid-December onwards. This has given a huge benefit – the lambs thrive and it also helps with foot problems, and reduced pneumonia.

Last year, the Grahams were honoured to receive a judges’ special award for farming family of the year in the Cumbria Farming Awards, having been nominated by other people from the community.

Miller Hill is still very much a family concern with Rachael taking over the administrative work from Stephen’s mother, Sheila. Rachael studied two years for her level 3 agriculture at Newton Rigg College at Penrith before it closed in 2021.

With a keen interest in farming and livestock from a young age, Rachael enjoys showing commercial cattle and has competed at many shows across the UK.

Among her successes are winning the overall beef young handler at the Royal Highland show in 2019, also during that summer winning Cumbria Young Handler of the year, qualifying at local agricultural shows through-out the summer that were taking place across Cumbria.

Countryside Live, at Harrogate, is another ticket added to her collection! The passion for showing commercial cattle is something which has been passed down from her dad, who was also very successful in the show ring in his younger years.


Texel cross Mules put to Texel cross Beltex rams and are due to start lambing in March Ref:RH150222058

Texel cross Mules put to Texel cross Beltex rams and are due to start lambing in March Ref:RH150222058


Tracey established her outside catering business, Hadrian’s Country Kitchen, 16 years ago, when the children were still small. She bakes traditional farm-house fare and sells her tasty delights from the house door, whilst also supporting local artisan craft events and farmers markets.

What started out as a hobby soon escalated into a flourishing concern, also providing a supplementary income for the farm and household. Over the last few years, the business has diversified by consumer demand focusing more on providing buffets and afternoon teas.

Working closely with the local undertaker, most of Tracey’s business is now predominantly providing bereavement refreshments at a venue of the client’s choice.

She believes in using good quality ingredients all of which are sourced through local independent businesses, she also uses some of the meat from the farm. Tracey learnt her culinary skills from her grandma when she was a little girl, and still uses her old recipes to this date in her baking.

To help her with her business, she has a team of local ladies, who work for her on a casual basis, they are neighbours and friends who are linked with agriculture, several of them being local farmers wives, who view coming out to work as a social day off away from their normal farming life.

During the Covid-19 pandemic her business came to a halt due to the restrictions, but not to be defeated she soon created and introduced individual afternoon tea boxes which sold again from the farmhouse door – these were extremely popular and kept her name active within the market-place.

Amy is currently studying for her GCSEs, finishing school this year, she is also very keen and actively involved on the farm, helping in her spare time to complete daily routines. She is hoping to attend agricultural college in September to further her studies and is keen to work with in the business, being involved in the local young farmers club.

As a hobby, Amy also has a keen interest in riding and her ponies, achieving great success within the ring, both at local and county level. One of her most memorable experiences was riding at the Royal Highland Show when she was aged 13, placed second in a very strong class of show hunter ponies.