It may be a long way from Devon, but a Northumberland farming family has just won the South Devon Herd Book competition for the second time, beating producers from across the country.
Robert and Sally Lee first won the competition with their Lumbylaw Herd of pedigree South Devon cattle in 2000, and said they were delighted to have taken the honours for the second time round. "We are chuffed to bits," said Mr Lee. "We keep the cows on a very commercial basis and don't go to many shows, so it's hard to judge your stock against others."
Robert Lee at home with his cattle. He first won the South Devon herd book competition in 2000
The couple keep 110 cows, plus followers, at Edlingham, near Alnwick, with Mr Lee having started out with six pedigree heifers on his 21st birthday. "We've tried all sorts of breeds over the years, but nothing gives us as much pleasure as the South Devons," he said. With five stock bulls on the farm, he produces moderate, easy-calving animals with plenty of milk and growth. "With a bigger herd you can be quite selective about what you keep. I wouldn't sell any animal for breeding that I wouldn't buy myself."
Any cattle which are not suitable for breeding are finished and sold for meat. "We are organic, so feed-conversion rates are important, and we get a very good premium for our cull cows as they are so big," said Mr Lee. "Their docile nature is also a great plus factor, as I look after them all on our upland farm with just my dog."
The judge, Peter Rowe, whose Trewint Herd in Cornwall has won the competition three times, said the Lees' cattle stood out from the crowd due to their consistent beef qualities. "Robert and Sally's cows are a fit lot," he said. "They have to work for their living on some tough, hilly ground. If you moved them to another farm they would do just as well. They are good commercial animals."
Mr Rowe said he was particularly looking for large cattle with natural fleshing and good conformation. But it was the uniformity of the Lumbylaw Herd that so impressed him and the other judges. "As a breed, we have to produce uniform beef animals that will compete against the continental breeds. So we're looking at the cows, bulls, and young stock coming into the herd to see how they will perform."
To celebrate their win, the Lees held a farm walk.