AN ability to produce even crops of well-fleshed calves with the added bonus of producing home-bred replacement females is what attracted them to the breed, but the unrivalled attributes of the Limousin is what has retained its spot as the number one sire for the Lambie family at Loanhead of Duchally.

Limousin genetics feature strongly in the 90-cow breeding herd run by Allan and Gail Lambie together with sons, 27-year-old Scott and 22-year-old Ewan, while middle son Douglas, 25, works for a local potato merchant. The breed’s ease of management and increased output advantage has fitted in well on the 560-acre unit that sits above Auchterarder with views across the Strathearn valley, and that’s just as well as there is a 400-strong flock of sheep to look after too.

Added to this in the last four years under a partnership was 3500 acres at Braco Castle, where Scott works together with shepherd Brian Coates to manage a 1700-ewe flock of Blackfaces as well as 40 suckler cows.

It was in 1984 that Allan’s father, John, brought the first Limousin bull to Duchally, but it was all on Allan’s insisting, as he explained: “I told him Limousins were the way forward. We did have Simmental cross cows and Aberdeen-Angus bulls but I was looking to get away from them to produce a sweeter type of calf for selling.

“The Limousin produces a consistent batch of calves to sell – I’m not looking to breed any stand-out show calves but instead calves that are like peas in a pod and good to sell in groups of four or six. Our aim is to produce a fleshy butchers’ calf and something that will go on and do well for the finisher,” he added.

The 90 home-bred cows at Duchally are split 50:50 between spring-calving in March and April, and autumn-calving which is in the months of August and September. This was mostly to reduce the spring workload but it works well as the back-end calvers are turned out to the hill during the summer while the calves are kept nearer the steading after weaning.

As cows are grazed on the hill, which rises up to 1500 feet above sea level, all summer, the weight is kept off them and they return to nearer the home stead fit and are able to get on with calving themselves. That being said, they’re all kept close at hand and the five or six closest to calving are brought in to sheds at night time to avoid the team running about the field in the dark to check on them.

The Lambies are also calving heifers down at the age of two, with that decision made more than 15 years ago in order to keep calving periods compact and not carry any passengers. These youngsters are kept separate in order to prevent any bullying by the older females, and the team at Duchally are finding cows are still growing big enough with cast weights around the 800kg mark.

“On the maternal side, we have to watch they don’t run out of milk and it’s for that reason we don’t like to breed them too pure but instead like a bit of hybrid vigour and use an Aberdeen-Angus, mostly on heifers,” commented Allan.

“But they’ve all got to pull their weight and if a heifer is not willing to lick her calf she’s not going to last very long here.

“We’re finding they’re generally good on their legs and don’t have big slack bags on them, but we’ve many generations of home-bred replacements to look back on.

“We’re regularly getting 11, 12 and 13 calves out of our cows, with one due to calve for the 12th time having so far given us 15 calves. But I like to send them down the road at that time as they still have a good cull value of 150p per kg or £1200.”

Any calves not retained for breeding are sold as they near the year-old stage, with autumn-born calves sold at around 12 months while spring-born calves are traded a month sooner. All are consigned through United Auctions’ Stirling centre, and reduce the number of feet on the ground ahead of calving.

The latest group to sell, a 37-strong mixed entry of bullocks and heifers, sold on September 24 to average £1054 at 440kg. This, reports Allan, is slightly back on the year but he remains happy with the trade considering the reported fodder shortages in the country.

He also notes the price per kg is slightly better for the spring-born calves but as they’re in better fettle but, being sold a month younger, they don’t have the weight of their later-born herd mates and so the gross price can be roughly the same value.

“I often get kill lines back from the finishers which helps guide me to which type of bull I’m needing, ie, growthier, thicker, leaner or fatter,” he added.

These calves are offered a concentrate feed all summer while at grass, not to put on extra condition but rather to maintain a level plane of nutrition through the summer months, with the offering increased when wet weather affects the eating value of grass.

The end product, whether is be calves to sell or heifers to retain, are all a result of the all-important sires, which are selected for their mobility, temperament, topline and fleshing characteristics.

The current team includes Spittalton Lewis, Dyke Noel and Longfauld Jino, all of which are of a different type to match in with each other, and will remain at Duchally for a few years before they’re sold on to avoid them coming on to their own breeding.

Allan does note he’d like to see more accuracy in estimated breeding values as they can be a handy guide, but he also points out that the eye is the best merchant. It’s a point backed up by Ewan who, during a visit to France with SRUC Oatridge, saw first-hand the controlled diet all potential breeding bulls receive at the breeding centre which really sets a level playing field against those that can be overfed and pushed too hard here in Britain.

Allan continued: “We’re conscious of bulls being overdone so we try and buy once we’ve looked down the bloodlines. We’re certainly looking at calving ease but the figures are a bit away from being accurate. But we’ve been in them that long that we now know where to go for bulls.”

There’s plenty on the go for the team at Duchally as the sheep enterprise takes its own share of attention as the 300 North Country Cheviot ewes are bred both pure and to the Bluefaced Leicester, producing Cheviot Mule ewe lambs to sell privately. From mid-August onwards, the Cheviot wedders as well as the Texel and Durno-sired lambs from the 100-strong cross flock are all fattened at home on home-grown forage with the shapier sorts sold through United Auctions, Stirling, and the rest through Scotbeef.

Scott’s busy at Braco Castle too as 90% of the 1200 Blackface ewes are bred pure on the hefted hill while the remainder are covered by Blue tups. This produces home-bred Scotch Mules which join the 500 Mule and Texel cross females which are in turn covered by Beltex and Texel sires. These lambs are sold through Caledonian Marts as well as deadweight.

“We tend to do the bulk of the work ourselves, including the 60 acres of cereals where we grow barley for our own use as well as forage for finishing the lambs and the 100 acres of baled silage,” Allan pointed out, adding they plan to use heifer replacements from the predominantly Limousin-sired but native-bred females at Braco Castle at Duchally in the coming years.

It may seem like an ideal set-up but, like all farming enterprises, it doesn’t come without its challenges and the Lambies have found the wet springs their biggest test.

“The late spring here is the biggest challenge as the ground is back-lying, rises to 1500 feet and is north-facing, so not ideal ground for cattle,” said Allan, noting although this spring was bad it wasn’t as bad as 2013 when the sheep were stressed and the grass never came through.

“This year, the ewes were fitter through the winter which helped for when the ‘Beast from the East’ arrived. We were better prepared this year too – the tups’ raddle was changed every six days which worked well to feed and bring in sheep in batches, and it’s something we might continue.”

This ability to adapt is what keeps the farming job interesting though and while tweaks have been made over the years, it’s the versatility of the Limousin breed as both a terminal sire and female getter that means neither Allan, Scott nor Ewan are tempted to venture from their number one breed.