HAVING experimented with various terminal sires over the years to produce his ideal suckler replacement cows, it’s the Limousin that has come out on top for Orkney pedigree and commercial breeder, Michael Cursiter.
He took on the role as chairman of the British Limousin Cattle Society last year and is the first Orcadian to take on this position. Michael farms with his brother Martin, his wife, Ruth and their son, Sean, in Evie, one of the island’s northern districts. They farm 700 acres between two units, Laga and Lower Bisgarth, and rent a further 800 acres of rough grazing on the island of Hoy. 
“You just can’t beat the Limousin. Their killing out percentage is exceptional, and they can produce the size and quality carcase that the market wants,” said Michael. “I reckon a Limousin is near enough the perfect animal that a beef farmer aims to produce at the end of the day. Although they don’t grow as quick as the Charolais or Simmental, they eat less.”
Despite the Cursiters being strongly behind the Limousin, they have introduced the Beef Shorthorn as a second terminal sire within their 100-cow herd. The aim with this is to produce medium-sized, milky females and in turn, progeny that is easy fleshing and quicker to finish. But Michael did point out that there is more marketing options with the Limousin, as they are suited to both the store and fat market. 

The Scottish Farmer:
“Originally, we started with Hereford cross Friesian suckler cows, but the revenue for them soon dried up when the Holstein came into the dairy industry. We tried crossing these with the Simmental bull to get replacements but found they were big cows and ate a lot. 
“Our next experiment was the Limousin over the Hereford/Friesians and that gave us a smaller cow, with good breeding potential plus calves with shape and style,” said Michael. “But while the Limousin onto the Limousin crosses proved themselves for the first two generations, after that we found the milk quantity dropped.”
The Cursiters then tried various other sires including Aberdeen-Angus and Salers, but found their temperament wasn’t great, particularly at calving time. It was the Shorthorn which proved best, producing cows that were more docile and easier fleshed. As a result, all Limousin cross females in the herd now go to the Shorthorn bull, while the Shorthorn crosses go back to the Limousin. 
“Our spring calving herd is a mix of Limousin crosses and Shorthorn crosses, as well as 15 pedigree Shorthorns and 11 pedigree Limousins. The Limousin cross Shorthorn is a nice size of cow and is easy calved. We don’t have to pull many calves ourselves,” said Michael, adding that they now pelvic measure the heifers to improve calving and keep vet costs down.  
“If you produce quality Limousin calves with good shape, they will always top the store trade. The best of the Limousins sold here at the mart in Kirkwall can easily sell at 240p per kg, while native breeds and poorer continental types can sell from 220p to 200p.
“Buyers up here are always willing to pay £1200 per head for store cattle weighing between 500kg and 550kg, but they don’t want to go over the £1300 mark.”
With that in mind, the top-end Limousin stots and heifers from Laga Farms are sold at 16 to 18-months-old at Kirkwall, and have most recently averaged out at 240p. 
“We like to support the local mart and we have a lot of regular buyers coming up here to Orkney. We’ve found the buyers attending are more interested in Limousin crosses since the new carcase weight limit has come in.
“The local trade in Orkney is as good as you get but the beasts going through the ring have to have a bit of shape about them to get that premium price.”

The Scottish Farmer:
In contrast, all Shorthorn calves are finished on the farm and sold direct to Woodhead Bros to get the benefit of Morrisons native beef scheme. The bottom draw of Limousin calves are also finished on farm and go the same way, with the first lot usually away in November at 19-months-old. 
“Our latest figures among the finished cattle show that steers averaged £1410 and heifers levelled at £1211. We don’t find much difference between the Limousin and the Shorthorn for finishing price. The pure Limousin would kill out 10% better than the pure Shorthorn and there’s about 5% difference between the crosses which roughly equates to the 25p Shorthorn premium.”
Although the Cursiters receive a good trade in both the store ring and with finished cattle, the cows are easy kept and survive through long winters inside. In fact, Michael commented that the cows average six weeks longer inside than they did 50 years ago which adds significantly to the cost of production. They usually head outside with their calves in late May but are lucky if they get five months out at grass. 
“The cows are fed silage throughout the winter, with additional barley given after calving. We usually try and mix straw in the diet but this year its just silage due to straw being such a big problem this year,” said Martin. 
Michael added: “Orkney straw isn’t usually good enough quality to feed to cattle, so it has to be bought elsewhere. We traditionally paid £1000 for an artic load of straw and £1000 to haul it here. This year though, it could be nearer £3000 in total and that price is just a non-starter for us.
“Slat housing is so common in Orkney because of the straw situation but then again, we dont’t have the hassle of bedding. We only house the young bulls for sale and the stots for finishing on straw because the weight gains are much better compared to when on slats.”
Backing up those statements, Sean who is mainly full-time on the farm and spends the summer months clipping sheep, said: “We are always pushing the boundaries up here. We can grow good grass in the summer but have a short window to do it in. The growing season is so short and the land doesn’t have the same power to push animals on”. 
Cattle which are finished on the farm are given a 13% finishing home mix, with stots ad lib fed on straw bedded courts, and heifers housed on slats and restricted to 7kg of the same mix. The weaned calves thrive on 3 kilos of finishers ration, top dressed with soya to boost the protein by 4%.  
Outwith the commercial herd, the fondness of the Limousin breed resulted in Michael and Ruth developing their small pedigree Lagas herd in 1994 when they bought two females from the Newhouse herd at Perth, plus another two privately from the late Doug Edgar. At one point, the herd numbered as many as 30 which they found was too many. They had a production sale at Carlisle in 2011, but keeping a few of the best breeders and now run just 11 breeding females. 
“Our pedigree females run alongside the commercial cows and they receive no extra treatment. They have to keep up with the cross cows,” commented Michael. 
In the past, Lagas bulls have been sold at both Stirling and Carlisle but in more recent years, they’ve sold just as well in Orkney with sales to a top of £5000, which happened be the top price at the Orkney Bull Breeders sale that day. 
“To compete at premier sales, you have to feed bulls harder than I have the ability and the desire to do,” said Michael.
“Our bulls are fed a pedigree bull mix from Smellies and we add a bit of mash for the last two months before sale. I think it’s better to feed a bull harder in its later life, rather than feeding it at an early stage before its frame is ready to take the extra weight.”
Stock bulls in the past have been purchased from both Carlisle and Stirling but Michael comments that although there can be high flying prices at premier sales, there is still a selection of quality bulls at good value. 
“We like to buy bulls with breed character which are reasonably sized with good conformation and good on their legs. They must have big balls, have a short gestation figure, a positive figure for fat and milk and last but not least, a good temperament. If we find one that ticks all the boxes we probably won’t afford to buy him, so no doubt there will be compromises made.”
Like many other Limousin breeders, the Cursiters have studied the various genes within the breed and have preferred stock carrying the F94L gene which is also known as the profit gene. However, Michael would rather avoid the Q204X gene due to his suspicion that this gene creates harder calvings and produces females with less milk. 
It’s not just the cattle which keep the family busy though, as they run 850 breeding ewes – 750 Lleyns which are either bred pure to produce Lleyn tups, gimmers and home-bred replacements, or crossed with the Texel to produce fat lambs for Woodhead Bros – and 100 Romney ewes which are also bred pure or crossed with the Aberfield. 
To be as self sufficient as possible, the Cursiters grow around 35 acres of spring barley

The Scottish Farmer:
The one Limousin bull left for sale from the Lagas herd is entered for the Orkney Bull Sale so unfortunately, the team doesn’t have any Limousin entries forward for the forth coming sale at United Auctions, but are heading down with three Shorthorn bulls and are on the lookout for a new Limousin stock bull.