Scottish breed | Luings are good weight gainers and feed efficient
When Dane Guignion decided to modify the genetics in his cow-calf operation near Pine River, Man., he was hoping to find a British breed with thicker hair and a hearty appetite for forage.
About three years ago, after considering the options to amend the mostly Limousin genes in his herd, Guignion bought bulls from a Scottish breed with an Asian sounding name.
The Luing (silent u, rhymes with ring) is a Scottish highlands breed known for its ability to thrive on marginal pasture, as well as its longevity and maternal instincts.
On top of those traits, the Luing genetics also improved the temperament of calves on Guignion’s farm.
“I was getting too much Limousin in my herd…. The Limousin calves had AC/DC playing in their heads. The Luing calves had John Denver playing in their heads,” he said to illustrate the improvement in disposition.
Guignion bought his Luing bulls from Iain Aitken, a cow-calf producer in Rimbey, Alta., who runs a herd of 150 primarily Luing cattle.
Aitken immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 2000 with a plan of raising cattle and reviving the Luing breed in the country.
“It was kind of my intention to carry on the Luing breed here because I had Luings in Scotland,” he said.
Luing cattle first arrived in Canada around 1973, brought here by Alberta ranchers.
The breed never caught on beyond a core group of ranchers in B.C. and Alberta. Aitken said numbers likely peaked in the 1970s at several hundred head in Western Canada. By the time he emigrated from Scotland, the Luing breed had probably shrunk to a few dozen animals in Canada.
Aitken was determined to resuscitate the breed in North America because he thought it was perfectly suited for conditions in the West.
Luings have a long outer coat of hair and an inner layer of short hair, which provides protection from severe weather on the Scottish Highlands or a typical January day on the Prairies.
“They’re (also) a very feed-efficient type of cattle, in terms of making use of lower quality feed, lower quality bush pastures and that type of thing,” Aitken said.
In comparison to Highland, another Scottish breed, Luings gain weight more rapidly.
“The Highland has some important characteristics, like foraging ability, exceptional longevity and meat quality, but they just grow too slow to be practical,” Aitken said.
“I doubt many people would have the ability to get them fat at a viable weight before (three years). The strength of the Luing is that it combines the best of the Highland characteristics with the best of the old Shorthorn genetics in a package that is commercially viable.”
While numbers haven’t skyrocketed since his arrival from Scotland, the Canadian Luing Cattle Association lists four breeders on its website. Aitken estimated there are several hundred Luing cattle in Canada.
Nonetheless, ranchers — particularly grass-fed operators — are intrigued by the breed, Aitken noted.
“They’re better adapted to grass. To my knowledge, they’re probably the only breed in North America that hasn’t been selected for feedlot performance on grain,” he said.
Guignion said the Luing offspring have performed well on pastures around Pine River.
“They fit in pretty good in this country, being a forage based animal. It’s pretty washy type grass and cows need a lot of gut capacity to do well.”
Aitken hasn’t set a goal for the size of the Luing herd in Canada, but he has sold bulls into Saskatchewan and Manitoba and believes the breed could gain traction.
“Realistically, we’re not going to compete with Angus numbers anytime soon. But these cattle have the potential every bit as much as the Angus. Largely, it’s a matter of fashion… that factors into cattle breeding. Whether you are the ‘in’ thing.”