Trying to establish yourself within a breed is never an easy task.

For the Bell family, they were looking for a new breed of cattle that was going to do what they needed them to, but that was also going to do well on their ground and for that they went for the Luing.

Rory and his wife Jane live at Roxburgh Mill, Kelso and run that farm alongside a hill unit, Plenderleith, at Jedburgh, 15 miles away.

“We’d always had a few commercial Luings and they had done well,” explained Rory: “so when we looked at building something more substantial, they seemed like a natural route to go down.”

“They’re good milkers and generally good mothers. You don’t need to help them much and all of that appealed to us.”

The full family are involved in the farm in one way or another. Sons Finlay (19) and James (22) are both keen, although James is currently working in New Zealand and Finlay is in his second year of rural business management at Edinburgh.

Daughter Lucy (15) is still at school but is also good at getting outside and getting her hands dirty.

Jane bakes for a shop in Kelso and going by the excellent lunch The SF were treated to on our visit, her produce is second to none.

Rory’s father Robin his still very much present as well.

The family got Plenderleith in 1947, and Roxburgh Mill 12 years later. Robin lived at Plenderleith and brought cattle on in 1948.

“We were one of the first farms in the Cheviot Hills to have cattle,” Robin explained.

The family now run 98 pure Luings, including 12 heifers, alongside their previously established Simmental herd.

Both Roxburghe Estate Farms, Plenderleith is officially 1830 acres, with 240 acres enclosed and the rest is hill grazing.

Roxburgh Mill runs across 260 acres, 200 arable of which are arable, with 100 acres spring malting barley and 30 acres of winter oats that go to Hogarth's of Kelso for oatmeal production. 12 acres of winter barley is growing this year to be used as an entry for a lamb finishing forage crop.

In 2006 the Bell’s took the plunge into pedigree Luings, and made their foundation purchases from Luing, Merkland and Nunnerie, all at the Castle Douglas sale.

They bought cows and calves at the Westwater dispersal that same year.

“We also bought a dozen Merkland females and they’ve done well.” Rory told us.

“They’re a nice type of cow, they hold their flesh well.”

Explaining their reasoning for expanding the Luing operation, Rory explained: “Before we got the Luings, the Simmental crosses weren’t grazing the hill at Plenderleith enough,” Rory explained. “The cows weren’t making the most of it. The Luings forage a lot better across the whole hill and do well on it.”.

“For eight years, we didn’t cross the Luings as we wanted to build up numbers.”

At Roxburgh Mill, the family now run 15 pedigree Simmental cows and 15 Sim/Luings. The Simmental herd was established in 1973.

This February is their first foray into properly selling at the Luing Society sale at Castle Douglas. They have ten heifers and a bull heading to the event.

Four of the heifers are by Merkland Nugget, four by Luing Northern Star and two by the Luing Clansman son, Plenderleith Premier.

Also heading to the sale is Plenderleith Wizzard, a polled April 2017-born bull. He is by Merkland Nugget and his dam is a Harehead Hammer daughter.

The family seem quietly pleased with their offering for the sale.

“This is the first time I’ve felt like we’ve got something to offer that does themselves justice,” admitted Rory.

Bull-wise, the Bells have had a few that have left their mark.

“I think the most influential bull we’ve had would be Harehead Hammer,” explained Rory.

“We bought him in 2008 and he left good calves and his mark can be seen through the herd now. We’ve probably still got about 20 of his daughters. He wasn’t too big, so he married well with our females.”

Other bulls that have done well include Luing Northern Star, who was bought at the Merkland dispersal and Dirnanean Nixon.

They also run their own Simmental bulls, and they sell their Simmentals at home or at the bull sales.

On the sheep side of things, there are 30 Texel ewes, with shearlings sold at Kelso each year.

“Teviot Texels are really Dad, Finlay and Lucy’s domain,” Rory told us, “and they’re making a good job of them.”

Also at Plenderleith, they run 630 Blackface and Blackface cross ewes.

As well as Rory and the boys, Peter Hunter works for the family at Plenderleith.

Rory’s son James is at the forefront of the tractor work and does some contracting locally as well, while Finlay is the man to talk to about the livestock side of things.

The Bells are big advocates of the nature of the Luing, and readily admit that was a big element of their choice to bring them more solidly into their cattle set up.

Rory said: “When we were thinking about what breed to go into, temperament was a massive factor and I don’t think that the Luings can be beaten in that respect.

“We don’t keep anything that seems like it could have any sort of temper anyway, but that’s not something that we often have to deal with.”

Robin backed up this sentiment, saying: “Luings are honestly the canniest cattle I’ve ever worked with.”

Plenderleith farm lies at 800 feet, with the top of hill rising to 1200 feet. One field is re-sown annually, under a crop of arable silage to aid weed control. All silage is baled and used as winter fodder.

Out on the hill, the cows get urea-based feed blocks, before going onto pre-calving blocks.

“The calves are all weaned down to Roxburgh Mill, and we have the capacity for 100.

“That means that the stock numbers we’re at just now are pretty much ideal.”

“We don’t creep feed the calves, they come down to Roxburgh Mill and are wintered on silage and some protein – this year we are using maize gluten.

Rory explained: “Youngstock are summered near Duns, where we take 80 acres of grass.”

Sim/Luing bullocks are sold at St Boswells in October and heifers of the same breeding were sold privately this year for E.T. recipients but have also been sold at St Boswells in the past.

“I think the Sim/Luing cross is an attractive one for buyers,” Rory explained. “They’re versatile and bring the best of both breeds into the equation.

“The cross also works well on the land we’ve got at Roxburgh Mill.”

Until this year, Luing bullocks were outwintered again on stubbles before going for slaughter off grass at 28-30 months, through AK Stoddart .

Rory explained: “They were killing at 360-400kg, which we were pleased with, but this year due to a shortage of man power with James being away, we sold the steers store at 18 months and, to be honest, we’ll likely do the same in future.

The pure Luings calve out on the hill and the family tell us that they hardly need to touch them, and that they’re great mothers. Bucking the trend, the Plenderleith heifers calve at 3 years old.

“A lot of people are breeding bigger Luings, but we try to keep our females a moderate size so that they do out on the hill,” said Rory.

Around half of the Luing cows at Plenderleith run with Simmental calves.

“30% of our Luing cows are polled and it definitely makes it easier when they’re calving out on the hill. It’s a bonus,” said Rory who has introduced the polled gene into the Simmental herd too.

“The two farms work hand in hand in a lot of ways like that – we couldn’t run our operation the way we do without one or the other.”

As far as the future is concerned, there is no great talk of upping cow numbers, but more of upping ewe numbers and making the two things work together more.

“The cattle numbers we have work well for the setup we have,” said Rory, “so we wouldn’t want to try and increase the numbers if that was going to compromise what we were being able to do.

“Going to sell at Castle Douglas to sell is obviously a big step for us, so fingers crossed it works out for us and we can take it from there.”

“Both of my sons are keen and are a great asset to the business,” concluded Rory, “so we’ll just need to see what the future holds for the whole family!”