An easily managed, low input cow that suits the system at Commonside is the name of the game for the Cakebread family’s Luing cattle herd at Hawick.

Fiona and Graham Cakebread are the third generation to look after the running of Commonside, along with their three daughters Caitlyn (11) Amy (9) and Lucy (3), with Fiona’s mother, Kirsty, is still involved in the business.

The 80 Luing cattle and 1400 Cheviots run over 2500 acres, to a top of 1300ft above sea level.

The Scottish Farmer: The hill reaches 1300ft above sea level at Commonside The hill reaches 1300ft above sea level at Commonside

“The Luings suit the ground here as they are ideal to manage our type of hill grazing. She is an extremely hardy, good natured and a milky mother that can rear a strong calf in any weather for a competitive commercial market,” commented Graham. The family also have a full time cattle man, Martin Steel, to help maintain the herd’s high standards.

One of the biggest challenges for them all is the weather, which can cause issues, hence the need for a hardy animal.

“It is something that is outwith our control, although it causes us hassle at times and we have to constantly adapt and overcome its challenges. It is never going to change,” said Graham.

The Scottish Farmer: Stand off Luing cattle showing their hardy nature on the hill Stand off Luing cattle showing their hardy nature on the hill

Another more recent challenge occurred last year when Graham picked up a problem of low cow fertility within the herd and knew they had to do something about it as it was at an all time low.

“We came to the conclusion that it was an energy issue with the cows, it isn’t easy for a cow to have a calf, nurse the calf and be back in calf that year, all on marginal ground here,” explained Graham, who organised a bespoke product via Davidsons Animal Feeds to overcome this.

The outcome was a high energy diet, triple starch formulation of maize, barley and wheat to achieve optimum rumen balance.

“Not only has using this tightened our calving period, we have had a 60% reduction in empty cows – which is just unbelievable within a year,” added Graham, who has now stopped using feed buckets to ensure all cattle are receiving a balanced diet throughout the bulling period.

The Scottish Farmer: During the winter the Sim-Luing cattle will be housed on slats During the winter the Sim-Luing cattle will be housed on slats

Commonside put half of the Luings to a Simmental bull to produce Sim-Luings, but these require a little extra care throughout the year and will be brought inside during the winter, whilst the pure Luings will be left on the hill.

“We believe that the SimLuings adds value in the market place. They are a very popular suckler cow and hit the commercial demand. They are still a strong, hardy type that thrives on marginal ground.”

“Although everything is calved indoors in the spring for management ease, it is still crucial we breed calves that are vigorous and quick to their feet,” added Fiona.

The Luing females are either kept as replacements or sold as bulling heifers, with the strongest of the bull calves being kept entire and sold the following February, at Castle Douglas.

The team had a field year back in 2013 when they sold Commonside Nick for 10,000gns, making a bit of history for their herd. This coming year, the team have two bulls to sell which are sons of Craigdarroch Torres and the last son of Luing Norton.

Whilst the SimLuing heifers will be exchanged as yearlings to a regular buyer, the bullocks are sold store at seven to eight months old and this year averaged £810.

All of the cows carrying Simmental calves will be brought inside in November, whilst the pure Luings will be out-wintered on the hill.

“Being a predominantly hill farm, we have the scope to out-winter. With the Luing being such a hardy breed, they thrive outside. Feeding Davidsons Suckler Rolls, the cows do very well, this keeps our out wintering costs and work load to a minimum,” added Graham.

The Scottish Farmer: Peering heads of some of the 60 pedigree Luing herd Peering heads of some of the 60 pedigree Luing herd

To help manage the hill to best advantage, the 1400 North Country Cheviots are all lambed outside in two sets, with the top of the hill scanning around 115% and the bottom end of the hill hitting 150%.

“The Cheviots also suit the ground here. They are a hardy, strong and versatile breed that maximises our outputs, they have tremendous mothering abilities producing stock to suit the commercial and pedigree markets,” said Graham.

The prime lambs will be sold through Longtown, hitting around 38-40kg and averaging £81 this year. However, the majority of the lambs will be sold store, either privately to regular buyers on farm, or through the ring at Longtown and St Boswells.

It isn’t just the commercial market that the family hit, the best of the tup lambs will be kept for breeding as Commonside shearlings for selling as two-shears at either Lockerbie, or Oban.

It has also been an exceptional year for the Northie flock. It achieved its best price to date of £7000 at Lockerbie.

That two-shear, Commonside X Factor, was from the first crop of sons by the £3200 Philiphaugh Target, and out of a Seaforth-sired ewe. This year, their 12 tups sold through the market balanced out at £1250

Another flock future proofing the business is of pedigree Texels, which is now up to 25 ewes. This is Graham’s ‘hobby’ as he supports local shows throughout the summer, bagging many championships along the way.

They are lambed inside from March, with the best ewe lambs being retained to replenish the flock. The best of the tup lambs are destined for Kelso Ram Sales as shearlings. Having bagged the pre-sale show championship for two consecutive years in ring 18 and 19. The 12 tups last year averaged £900, with a top of £1900.

The Scottish Farmer: The Luing cattle showing off their hardy nature The Luing cattle showing off their hardy nature

Looking after the hill is the No 1 priority, with there being no alternative to cattle and sheep grazing in such rough parts.

“We have recently invested in riparian woodland plantations on some wetter parts of the hill, this will complement our hill land management by providing winter shelter and supporting wildlife. However this doesn’t take anything away from our need to keep livestock on the hills.” said Fiona

“Native breeds are definitely on the up, with hardy, easily managed and low input Luings in the forefront of the revival. We wouldn’t have it any other way here, we love what we do and try to enjoy every minute.” concluded Graham.