A Texel Sheep Society publication
Issue 3 â€“ Spring 2013
Hitting the right specification for conformation and fat. Confident outlook for Devonshire flock. Impressive increases in Texel breed commercial traits.
mproving margins , improving margins, Adding
n in extreme extremeconditions conditions. .
Hardiness and Long-term plan creates success for Cumbrian flock. Texel provides quality and finishing ability for Dumfriesshire producer. Versatile Texel only choice for Perthshire Estate.
National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, CV8 2LG Tel: 02476 696 629 Fax: 02476 696 472 email@example.com www.texel.co.uk
Commercial Case Studies
Bryn Griffiths – North Wales Farming 1400 ewes and 250 ewe lambs, the majority of which are three quarter bred Texels, plus 200 Mules and a further 160 Mule cross Suffolks. 360 xbred ewes are put to Texel rams to produce female replacements and about 130 pure bred ewes are kept to produce ram lambs to sell locally, providing a valuable addition to the income stream. One of the first breeders in his area to change to Texel over 20 years ago, he has never looked back. At that time there were very few people in his area using Texel, but gradually over the years their popularity has increased significantly, providing greater competition, although quality of lamb has improved a great deal over the last few years.
Tom Masters – East Sussex Lambing 850 ewes in February and a further 200 in April requires an attention to detail and correct choice of breed, and more specifically the right type of sires within breed. With nearly all lambs from the early flock finished and sold off by June with a large proportion of the Texel sired crop away by end of May. Farming 550 acres of coast land, a harsh environment with limited grass growth from early summer even in a good year. With creep feeding essential before the grass burns off, Tom moved away from smaller, blockier type tups, noting lack of growth and length a major issue. Opting instead for performance recorded Texel to fit the bill perfectly, with high EBVs for growth and muscle with particular attention to a long powerful type of ram.
Russell Scott – Co Tyrone Northern Ireland 330 acre upland farm carrying 330 xbred Texel ewes, alongside a suckler herd provided an award winning mix for this young breeder and NI Sheep Farmer of the year. Texel rams are used extensively, using the Hillsborough Management recording scheme to assist his decisions to boost flock performance and profitability. The scheme helps assess and improve lambing ease, lamb viability and mothering ability, rating lamb number and weight at point of sale, amongst other criteria. “The positive influence of using Texel rams in the flock is clear to be seen, with the farm now in its 25th year of using Texel.” says Russell.
Peter Mitchell – Tewkesbury Gloucestershire Simple commercial principles have underpinned the development of the Avonvale Texel flock. With milky, maternal ewes forming the core of the flock, focusing on top end commercial rams for regional markets. Working full time, its been essential for Peter to develop a flock that is easily maintained, choosing performance recording to assist selection, but focusing on shape and length and functional traits to satisfy the discerning commercial producer. Pete says, “at the moment the EUROP grading system favours a bigger gigot, but length is essential.” Premium cuts are known not to be in the leg, but in the loin, a change in the grading system will be inevitable and as such producing fast growing, shapely lengthy sheep, like the modern Texel, with its lean muscling will offer premiums all the way.
texel Maximising return at every level of production is essential for a successful business. A challenge that is made much simpler in controlled environments yet is often an extreme challenge for extensive Sheep production. With the vagaries of the erratic climate and harsh wild environments typical for UK sheep production, from the extreme Northern Hills to the Southern moorland, sheep producers carve out a margin wherever possible.Yet even the softer lowlands, have not missed out, with many areas suffering with flooded land and low grass yields for longer than most have experienced in a lifetime. It seems weathering the storm is a regular ordeal with the latest and coldest spring on record, choice of breed and finishing system are essential ingredients if there is to be any hope of providing a margin for modern day sheep producers. Improving production efficiencies remain the over arching aim for all in the industry. Texels versatility is just one solution, yet with the breedsâ€™ major improvements in growth and lean muscling, along with its proven hardiness, and lamb vigour, traits that are essential for low input healthy commercial flocks, the breed continues to offer a much needed tool in profitable sheep farming. One area that still remains under utilised by producers is to ensure lambs are assessed accurately as often as possible to market specifications for conformation and fat cover. The waste caused to individual producers and as such loss of margin and profitability, with a wider industry cost, is massive, with estimates that over 26% of the entire UK lamb supply is over fat and out of specification. Additionally a significant number lambs are marketed at lower than desired weights as there is concern they would be become over fat if taken to heavier weights. This is a simple way of maximising return, further information on the topic can be found on page 14-15. With commercial volatility discouraging many into industry, for those that remain it is essential to use the most suitable production system, which will involve the use of modern and proven UK genetics. The Texel continues to prove its importance in the UK sheep industry, with Texel breeders continuing to invest heavily and make impressive improvements in commercial traits. All aimed at benefiting commercial producers that have come to rely on the Texel within their business. Choose Texel with confidence.
Chief Executive British Texel Sheep Society
Chief Executives Foreword
2 Commercial producers rely on Texel 45 Perthshire Estate organic choice. 67 Dalrulzion Hill ground suits Texel. 89 Confident Devonshire outlook. 10-11 Improved commercial traits benefit Texel. 12-13 Hardiness and health key for Cumbrian flock. 14-15 Assess lamb conformation and fat to maximise returns. 1617 Supply chain solutions in volume. 18-19 Best all round lamb for quality and finishing ability on Dumfriesshire farm 20 Society ram sales 2013
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Acknowledgement The Society thanks all those who have contributed in the creation of this production. While every effort is made to ensure accuracy of information contained within the Texel Sheep Society publication no responsibility can be accepted for any errors or omissions or any reliance on use of the information to readers. All prices and information is correct at time of going to press.
Versatility ensures popularity of the Texel breed
Bolfracks Farm Estate AT BOLFRACKS Estate in Aberfeldy, Perthshire, the sheep enterprise now revolves around the Texel, and it’s the versatility of the breed that has ensured its popularity with farm manager Alaster Fraser.
“The Texel is the only breed that we have found that can do the whole job for us, producing good breeding females and in turn, quality lambs that are sought after, and can be finished straight off grass,”
The 4000-acre organic estate includes 1200 acres of farmland (with the remainder forestry), where Alaster runs 900 ewes and a 65-strong suckler herd, on behalf of owner Athel Price. Some 60-70 Mule ewe lambs are bought in each year from nearby Remony Farm, and they are put to the Texel tup to produce the Texel Mule gimmer – now the mainstay of the flock. “The Texel is the only breed that we have found that can do the whole job for us, producing good breeding females and in turn, quality lambs that are sought after, and can be finished straight off grass,” explained Alaster, who previously tried other breeds such as the Zwartbles and the Lleyn. “We were finding a lot of feet problems, which would then lead to other problems, so keeping that to a minimum is now a main priority for us. With the Texel, we’ve had far fewer issues with feet than we had with other breeds,” he added. To ensure the best quality breeding females, new stock tups are always put straight on to the Mules, and Alaster says he tries to improve his
tup purchases each year – he needs 20 at any one time and buys from Kelso and Stirling sales.“I’ve bought a few stock tups from Ettrick over the past few years. My main stipulations are for them to have plenty shape and size – the conformation is important to go on to the Mule. At the end of the day, it’s the conformation that sells – that’s what yields the meat.” Prior to lambing, ewes carrying singles receive no extra feeding, but last year Alaster had 104 sets of triplets to contend with. Overall, this year’s crop lambed at 146%. The lambs, meanwhile, are all sold straight off grass, the majority (500-600 a year), heading from the beginning of August to McIntosh Donald through Highland Glen, at 19kg and making an average £80 a head. Some are sold earlier as stores, but can still fetch £70. “We keep the breeding ewes for four crops before selling them on, and that’s another good point about Texel cross ewes – they are still sought after at the end of their time. Cull ewes are making a minimum of £80 a head. “By using the Texel so much, we can get good killing out percentages from the lambs right through to the older ewes,” added Alaster. The sheep make up just one part of the Price family’s estate, which includes gardens that are open to the public, holiday accommodation, shooting and fishing. And Athel Price also spends a good part of his year out in New Zealand, on his 470-hectare farm which he bought five years ago.
Constantly aiming to improve the quality of the lambs each year, and is confident that he has found the right breed to help him in his quest.
Based on the Canterbury Plains, he runs 2800 ewes (mainly crossbred Coopworths, put to the Romney and the Suffolk, with the lambs sold as
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stores), plus 250 bull beef fatteners and 750 deer, which are also fattened. Mr Price says he was ‘curious to see what farming without subsidies was like’, and insists he much prefers it. Back home, Alaster is also in charge of the suckler herd, mainly consisting of Saler cows, which go to the British Blue and Limousin bulls. He has one customer who regularly buys his Blue cross heifers, while the remaining calves are sold as stores. “We don’t buy in a lot of feeding for the cows, 18 tonnes of organic barley in total, and the silage provides the protein. We’ll probably start to build the cattle numbers up, now that we are fully settled into the organic system,” he explained. As for the sheep, Alaster says they are constantly aiming to improve the quality of the lambs each year, and is confident that he has found the right breed to help him in his quest.
Bolfracks Farm Estate www.texel.co.uk 5
Dalrulzion Hill ground suits Texel Courtesy of Farmers Guardian
Mains of Dalrulzion The poor summer and winter weather of recent years coupled with a rise in feed a commodity prices and a fall in the sheep trade have caused a few changes to be made over recent years for David and Elizabeth Stewart, who farm Mains of Dalrulzion, near Blacklunans, Blairgowrie, and rent the neighbouring Drumfork and 2000 acres of hill ground at Finegard as part of a land hire agreement. At Mains of Dalrulzion, the Stewarts run 340 Texel cross and Beltex cross ewes, with 360 Lairg hilltype Cheviots at Drumfork and another 100 Texel crosses and 200 Cheviots on Finegand.
“you’ll struggle to beat Texel in the prime lamb market and the cast ewes also sell well”
“As well as the sheep flocks we run 12 Simmental cross cows after reducing from 30 a year past,” explains David. “We winter our cattle on slats and had to apply to SEPA for permission to spread the slurry - due to snow cover and severe frost. When we applied the second time it was clear we had to adapt to the conditions and so, since the sheep weren’t the ones producing the slurry, we reduced the number of cows.”
After years as a shearing contractor and shearing up to 30,000 sheep a year, David knew which breed of sheep he was after when looking to stock the three units. “Texels are a dual purpose breed as you’ll struggle to beat them in the prime lamb market and the cast ewes also sell well. We also needed a hill breed and opted for the Cheviot as they’re easy kept and the well fleshed lambs demand a premium over Blackface lambs,” he explains.
“Our Texel flock was scanned just recently at 192%, which is back on previous years but with a more manageable number of triplets due.”
After many years of selective breeding and retaining only the female offspring of ewes that bred more than one lamb, the Stewarts were having trouble with too many sets of triplets and a lack of grass from the poor summer weather to support the ewes and lambs and so changes had to be made.“We were scarce of grass during tupping for the last couple of seasons and avoided putting out minerals for the ewes in the aim
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of lambing down less sets of triplets,” comments Elizabeth. “Our Texel flock was scanned just recently at 192%, which is back on previous years but with a more manageable number of triplets due.” They also run a strict culling policy among the breeding females with any yeld ewes or those with problems at lambing sold on, and it’s a policy that is paying off as there were no recorded yeld Cheviots and only one yeld gimmer among the Continentals, last year. Recording empty ewes is only part of the management for the Stewarts as another recording method also reaps the rewards as David explains: “Each lamb that is born is number marked with the corresponding colour from the tups raddle. That way we can record those tups that breed good lambs for showing and so on, as well as those that don’t!” But it’s not all about getting the lambs on the ground, they need to pay their way too and with the recent drop in lamb prices and increasing commodity and feed prices making times ahead look tougher, the Stewarts are constantly aware of making ends meet. “We travel 36 miles a day on the quad bike just to feed the ewes at lambing time, as each unit is about five miles from the previous one, and so have seen a large increase in our fuel costs over recent years. As well as that, feed prices have risen in recent years with a tonne of lamb pellets setting us back £60 more than last
year and, unfortunately, we’re dependant on these concentrates as we don’t have any stubble neeps or kale to fatten the lambs on, said David” “We still haven’t recovered fully from the days of Foot and Mouth as markets refused to accept our lambs for selling and those that we did manage to sell were only making £22 at 50kg so that set us back quite a bit cost wise,” Elizabeth added. That said, selling to the right market is a key strategy for the Stewarts. Store lambs from the hill flocks are sold straight off their mothers as stores in September to save on grass while the Continental prime lambs are sold from the end of August through until after the New Year. These prime lambs are sold through Lawrie and Symington’s Forfar centre with the majority being purchased by local butchers, D and A Kennedy, at butchers’ weight of 46-52kg, with the most recent batch realising £96 per head. As well as selling store and prime lambs, the team sell between 40 and 45 Texel and Beltex tup lambs each year, both privately and through the Forfar mart, and around 16 shearlings (including Cheviots) which have been used as chasers the year previous. Nevertheless, coping with increasing costs is still a major issue for David and Elizabeth. “It’s not just feed and fuel prices that are increasing,” says Elizabeth. “We’ve been using an EID system for a number
of years now and find the costs involved the biggest factor, particularly with the number of tags lost out at pasture. It’s not only that, they can cause a lot of damage to the ear, especially on show sheep.” And talking of show sheep, there’s not many producers out there that can lay claim to winning 30 consecutive prime lamb championships, but that’s just what the Stewarts have achieved at Strathardle show, competing against very stiff competition from up to 70 pens of prime lambs. As well as triumphs at their local show, the pair have also had success at the Winter Fair, and the Premier Meat Competition at Scotbeef as well as lambs bred on the farm going on to win at both the Scottish Winter Fair and at Smithfield. “We’d like to show more sheep but it’s just getting the time to dress the lambs that is the issue,” explains David. “I believe the lamb trade will rise a bit over the next few months but it could be Autumn before we see a substantial improvement with QMS hopefully securing new markets for Scottish lamb,” comments David.” “With such poor growing seasons leading to even poorer silage and hay harvesting seasons it’s going to be a struggle but it’s nothing that hasn’t happened to the world of farming before,” he concludes.
Commercial outlook, the focus for Millenium flock However, with the recognition that rams from the Millenium flock don’t look as visually appealing as those from other more heavily fed flocks Michelle chose to start performance recording in 2006 to reassure customers that the rams would leave progeny every bit as good if not better than those from other flocks. “I knew we had to have something to show buyers which would help back up what we already knew about the sheep. We know the genetics are there, but our customers don’t always appreciate it. Performance recording is helping us manage our flock for the right traits and enables us to demonstrate the value in our genetics to our customers.”
Michelle & Howard’s Millenium Flock
Running a total of 500 ewes on just 54ha (134 acres), means a tight focus on the commercial attributes of the Texel are essential for Michelle and Howard Moore’s Millenium flock based at Knowestone, South Molton, Devon. Fed up of buying rams which melted when put to work the emphasis for flock management is to let the sheep perform the best they can from the forage available, explains Michelle Moore. “Too many rams are fed heavily before sale and don’t go on to lead productive lives as a result. We’re aiming to produce rams which have the genetics to perform, but aren’t excessively fed. “Our customers recognise this and have seen how our rams grow on after they get them home. While our rams may not be the biggest when they are sold they are often bigger as two shears and last well as a result.”
Michelle says ram buyers visiting the Millenium flock are now looking for performance recorded stock and appreciate the value in having the figures available when buying tups.
As well as producing tups for sale the 60 ewe Texel flock is also a nucleus for breeding stock for the farm’s commercial flock which is a three-way cross of Texel, Cambridge and Roussin genetics, with nucleus flocks of the other two breeds kept too. The limited acreage means high growth rate has always been a priority across both the pedigree and commercial flocks at Beaples Hill Farm, and for many years Michelle used a paper record system to track animal performance and ensure female replacements came from only the best performing bloodlines. “We were keeping the
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fastest growing ewe lambs, so these were generally from milkier ewes and were those which suited our system best.” Nowadays a stern test of the ewe lambs comes at tupping time, with all retained ewe lambs put to the tup for one cycle for a May lambing. “We tup any ewe lamb which is two thirds of her mature weight. Any which don’t meet this criteria aren’t retained and in 2011-12 a total of 135 purebred and crossbred ewe lambs put to the tup, with 115 scanning in-lamb at a percentage of 150%.” Pedigree Texel ewe lambs are put to a Cambridge ram to ensure an easy lambing and provide female replacements for the commercial flock.
“In the same time killing out percentage has increased by 2% and importantly the average days to slaughter has fallen by 30 days while carcass weight has gone up by 0.8kg/ lamb.”
With the main flock lambing in March and much of the farm north facing creep feed is considered essential to maximise productivity and all male lambs are creep fed until the beginning of August.
On the pedigree front the flock was founded in 2000 with ewes from the Kerrif and Shillingford flocks, with an additional portion of ewes coming from the Penberlan flock in later years.
“This also means any ewe lambs which are twins to ram lambs are creep fed too, but it means we can draw lambs quickly and maximise output from the flock.
“Rams have been sourced from a number of flocks, including Penberlan, Llanferres and Peacehay, with homebred sires used alongside these to help breed a type of sheep suited the lower-input system,” she explains.
“Across the last three lambings 2009-2011 - we’ve averaged 1.9 lambs sold/ewe tupped, with 50% of lambs grading E or U and an average carcass weight of 20kg.“
This lambing will see the first lambs born from AI in the Millenium flock, with semen from Handbank Madoc being used. Madoc has an index of 401, well within the top 1% of the breed, fitting the aims of high early growth to maximise productivity in the flock. Lambed in March alongside the commercial ewes the pedigree flocks
are managed exactly the same, with feed withdrawn from ram lambs in August and no more concentrate fed. “They’re wintered in the lambing shed on haylage and are back out to grass as soon as is practical in the spring,” adds Michelle.
And while for many breeders the buzz of the sale ring may be a lure for Michelle it’s repeat sales from the farm that form the bread and butter of ram selling. “We sell all our rams from the farm and have a customer base who understand what we’re doing and why it benefits them.”
“ It’s far less work and less hassle and our customers know that what they see is what they get. If they like the look of the sheep we produce on our rough ground they know they’ll improve when they take them to better ground,” she adds.
These are significant improvements and emphasise the importance of selecting for genetics to suit both the farm and the system, says Michelle.
Major Improvement to Commercial Traits
Texel breeders deliver substantial improvement in commercial traits
Increasing demand from commercial producers for quick growing, well muscled and evenly fleshed tups has seen a significant uplift in these traits in performance recorded Texel flocks over the last two years Texel breeders have always been focussed on the needs of the commercial producer since the breed was first introduced to the UK nearly 40 years ago. But the use of performance recording for key commercial traits is helping them deliver quicker and more meaningful improvements which help drive profits for commercial farmers. Over the last two years the average index in the breed has increased by more than 20, which
indicates an increase in the average breeding potential of a Texel lamb of just over 1kg to 21 weeks old. This is clearly a massive improvement in a short space of time and one which can deliver very tangible benefits for commercial producers. Quicker growing lambs that finish sooner mean improved margins, both through lower intakes and also through more timely marketing. What makes this genetic gain in the last two years incredible, is that it is on the back of two decades of significant improvements in the breed, with the average breeding value for growth to 21 weeks of age over 5kg higher in 2010 than it was in 1992.
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This in itself was a massive shift in the genetic potential of a population â€“ in a relatively short period of time, but the latest improvements are truly impressive bearing in mind the previous breed development which had already taken place and the high base the breed was starting from. It should also be noted that this gain has been achieved in a population of more than 65,000 lambs. Delivering this level of gain in small populations is relatively easy, to do in such a large population is quite unique. Members have been responding to an ever increasing demand for growthy, fleshy tups capable of leaving quick finishing lambs. The Texel breed has continued to evolve and adapt over the last 39 years since its introduction to the UK and it now ranks as the number one terminal sire for this very reason.
Quicker growing lambs that finish sooner mean improved margins, both through lower intakes and also through more timely marketing.
The massive improvements in growth and muscling being delivered by recorded Texel tups offer significant opportunities to commercial producers to cut their costs and improve margins. Topping the market with hoggets in March is all well and good, but topping the market with lambs in June and July means much lower costs and hence greater profits.
will help drive the breed forward even further in the coming years. Table One - Genetic merit of sires Year
Number of lambs
Average Scan Weight EBV
Graph 1 â€“ Index Trend 2004-2012
Graph 2 â€“ Growth Trend 2004- 2012
One of the reasons for the recent improvements in growth rate potential is a significant rise in the genetic merit of the Texel sires being used for breeding in pedigree flocks. (See table one). This is particularly true for their genetic merit for growth. The 2012 lamb crop was sired by Texel rams with a scan weight EBV 1.2kg higher than the ram team used in 2010. These improvements have clearly been passed on to their progeny and this
Hardiness & health for Cumbria flock Courtesy of Farmers Guardian
Where choice of breed and Long-term plan proves successful for Cumbria flock
In 2009 problems with abortions, mid-season lamb growth and lameness led sheep farmers Tim and Sandra Fawcett, of Sebergham, Cumbria, to draw up a flock health plan. Three years on, Jennifer MacKenzie finds out how they have progressed.
another 80 lambs reared, either for sale or as flock replacements which is important as we’re developing the flock.
Sheep farmers Tim and Sandra Fawcett have been fine-tuning the health of their commercial 400-ewe flock at Bustabeck Farm in Sebergham, Cumbria, over the past few years.
“We’ve also been able to start marketing lambs in August, a month earlier, freeing up the grassland for the ewes at tupping time. It also gives us more flexibility when marketing the lambs.”
With the help of their vet, Martin Squires of The Green Veterinary Surgery in Skelton, and SAC adviser Ian Cairns, the couple set up a detailed action plan funded by the RDPE Northwest Livestock Programme.
As part of their plan, for which they paid 10 per cent of the total cost (£160), ewes and lambs were blood tested for selenium, copper and cobalt, to see whether there was a need for greater trace element intervention and any other health concerns.
Three years on, and with future plans to increase ewe numbers to an optimum 450, the Fawcetts now have an improved lambing percentage with finishing lambs achieving higher weights at an earlier age. “As a result of carrying out the health plan, our lambing percentage has gone up by 20 per cent,” says Mr Fawcett. “This means the equivalent of
The plan included £250-worth of soil sampling carried out in five fields to establish levels of N, P, K and pH. With Bustabeck being a former dairy farm, levels of P and K were good and this has allowed a change in fertiliser policy with no phosphate being
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used at all. Instead, they are opting for straight nitrogen in the first application and K-Nitro used mid-season, resulting in savings on the fertiliser bill. Mr Squires says blood testing was a priority and revealed toxoplasma and an enzootic challenge. “The results were what we expected in a relatively young flock. It tends to come in at a low level and then you start to see it clinically. The first indication is more barren ewes, but in this instance it was a couple of hoggs with bad lambings.” The Fawcetts have now carried out a vaccination programme for the last three years. In autumn 2009 ewes were vaccinated pre-tupping. In 2010 all the hoggs were vaccinated against toxoplasmosis, although the enzootic vaccination was not available. In 2011, the remainder of the flock was vaccinated against both. Abortion has virtually been eliminated in the ewes, with only one geld at lambing time, but campylobacter has affected the lambing hoggs this season. Blood sampling groups of ewes and lambs for trace elements showed copper levels did not require supplementation. However, half the sheep sampled were below the reference range for cobalt, and supplementation was recommended, along with vitamin B12 injections. These were given monthly to the lambs from weaning or eight to ten weeks old until finished to pre-empt production losses. The plan is to check six lambs during August or September until a pattern is established. The blood tests also revealed half the ewes were below the reference range for selenium. Recommended supplementation was a slow release injection to the breeding flock every 18 months to coincide with initial resampling, followed by tests every three years. Again, six of the growing lambs at risk of selenium deficiency will be sampled at two to three months old.
As well as seeing all-round improvements in production from the flock, another major benefit has been that the Fawcetts now manage the flock health on an ongoing, preventative basis with Mr Squires.
Improvements Mr Squires says: “As a result of the programme we have developed an ongoing discussion about the flock’s health and a much more proactive approach. We have identified areas of deficiency and where products can be used beneficially. It is good to see the improvements and, from a vet’s perspective, the benefits give me job satisfaction.” With the need for proper handling facilities to manage the sheep and make these health improvements, the former milking parlour was adapted, aided by a 40 per cent grant from the Northwest Livestock Programme, using the plan as evidence investment was needed. The parlour was stripped of its fittings, the pit was filled in and handling facilities were installed, incorporating a footbath and a hard concrete standing area which allows better treatment. The system incorporates a treatment race, shedding gates, and a wide footbath as well as a turnover crate to implement the treatment programme. A weighing crate is also used in conjunction with the handling system to allow accurate assessment of finished lambs. “The handling facilities were very much needed,” says Mr Fawcett. “We had a fair degree of lameness in the sheep in the first couple of years. We can footbath the sheep and trim their feet and the key is that we keep their feet clean after treatment.” Lameness has now been reduced from 50 per cent of the flock to 20 per cent, which Mr Fawcett says has greatly helped improve the flock’s productivity.
Efficient “The majority of sheep farms in this country don’t have a useful concrete standing area. I would want every sheep farm to have a 10sq.m standing pad next to the footbath. A lot of old sheep handling systems are also not particularly efficient and take a lot more than one person to run them.” Mr Cairns quantifies the improvements made to the Fawcett’s business by saying: “The net financial benefit is not just 80 more lambs; earlier finishing across the flock is worth almost £5,000 to the business each year - even after deducting the cost of the vaccination programme and the investment in handling facilities.”
Bustabeck Farm • Tim Fawcett, operations manager with Carrs Billington, and Sandra, who was a senior agricultural manager with NatWest in Penrith, bought the former working dairy farm with 28 hectares (69 acres) five years ago when they settled in Cumbria, adding a further 18 ha (44 acres) in the last couple of years. • The flock at Bustabeck has grown from a mixture of breeds and the Fawcetts have now established a flock of 60 pure Texels and they have been using Bluefaced Leicester rams on Texel hoggs with the lambs then put back to the Texel. • The couple also run 35 cattle, finishing up to 30 a year bought as strong stores and selling them through Wigton mart at 18 to 23 months old. Half a dozen cross-bred cows are AI’d to calve in January and February.
Mr Squires emphasizes the need to have a clean, dry standing area once the sheep have been treated.
Assessing lambs to ensure they hit spec ONLY 57% OF LAMBS SLAUGHTERED IN WALES ARE IN SPEC: The 2012 Welsh
carcase classification figures show that only 57% of lambs sent to Welsh abattoirs hit the right specification for conformation and fat. The weather would have likely affected this, but the figure was only 1% higher (58%) in 2011. The main problem was lambs being too fat, as there was actually an improvement in conformation with a drop in the number of O and Ps coming through. HCC (Meat Promotion Wales) suggests the improvement indicated genetics in the Welsh flock are continuing to improve. Hitting market specification can bring big benefits to sheep producers, but how can they ensure as many lambs as possible fulfil requirements? Producers should avoid chasing lamb weights and instead focus on meeting market specifications to create sustainable lamb production. About 85% of market requirements are for E, U and R grades for conformation and 2 and 3L for fat class, yet just over half of all lambs slaughtered are meeting this requirement. This means one third of lambs aren’t meeting specification. A lot of producers think heavier weights mean more in the pocket, but this is completely dependent on what the market wants, explained EBLEX’s national selection specialist, Steve Powdrill. “Most of the market wants E, U, R, 2 and 3L grades, with only about 6% going to butchers at a heavier weight.” Mr Powdrill said taking lambs to a higher weight not only added unnecessary input costs at farm
level, can also create an undesirable product for the consumer, if not carefully managed. He stressed that there was a place for everything, but it was crucial that stock were bought and sold at the right price to the right market. “The main thing is to finish lambs to their optimum, but not over-fat. Within most common breeds it is possible to achieve an ideal target of R3L.” Mr Powdrill stressed the need for sheep producers not to just think of themselves as livestock producers, but as meat producers, so that they were focused on producing exactly what the market wanted. As such, it was crucial farmers assessed lambs before they went to slaughter – not only to supply an ideal product, but also to limit unnecessary input costs from keeping an animal too long.
“Assessing a lamb’s level of conformation is vital to determine the correct time to sell and so maximise potential returns,” “Lambs should be sorted by handling once a fortnight as they approach market quality and every week for the final two or three weeks.” “Weighing lambs is a second key management tool after handling. Regular weighing, along with handling, provides the route to better returns.”
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FAT CLASS Dock/tail 1 2 3 4 5
Individual bones very easy to detect Individual bones easy to detect with light pressure Moderate pressure to detect individual bones Firm pressure to detect individual bones Individual bones cannot be detected
Loin 1 2 3 4 5 Mr Powdrill recommends the following method of assessing a live lamb:
CONFORMATION ”The key is to imagine an animal as a live carcass when assessing for conformation and focus on the three main areas: the leg, loin and shoulder. Two out of three of these points make up the conformation – you cannot just look at the rear in isolation.”
The leg •
Visually assess how the fleece falls from behind
Put hand on gigot
The hind/legs are largely influenced by breed so if the loin is done, you won’t change the hind much
• The transverse process are the chops – they should have a nice coverage, but still be detectable
• When a lamb is not finished the spine will be sharp and you will be able to feel the tips of the transverse process •
This is the most important part in conformation and fat assessment
• When this is finished, the animal needs to go
Place hand flat over the shoulder
On a poor lamb your hand will rock backwards and forwards
On an over-conditioned lamb there will be no movement and on a finished lamb there will only be slight movement
Individual ribs feel very bare, prominent and easy to detect Individual ribs show slight cover, but still easy to detect Individual ribs have softer feel, with fat cover becoming more evident in between and over ribs, which are now less easy to detect Individual ribs only detectable with firm pressure Individual ribs undetectable, soft, rolling, spongy feel
Breast/brisket (generally used for conformation of higher fat class)
Loin Place thumb and fingers either side of spine and feel the spinous process and transverse process
Very easy to feel between processes which are very prominent Prominent spinous and transverse processes felt easily Tips of processes rounded. Individual bones felt as corrugations with light pressure Spinous processes felt with moderate pressure. Transverse with firm pressure Individual processes cannot be felt
Skin tight with no lateral movement, very bare feel Some lateral movement in skin, providing a slight pinch of fat More pronounced movement in skin providing definite pinch of fat, softer feel A ridge of fat evident, providing a positive and more pronounced pinch of fat - soft feel The thick ridge of fat has become very pronounced, resulting in a thick pinch and soft, rolling feel
Key considerations when assessing fat • The first area an animal puts fat on is around the dock • •
When a lamb is over-fat, you will feel a crease down the back and to the top of the dock Females lay down fat quicker and entire males finish slower
Texel provides solutions across entire supply chain
Meeting the requirements of all the important sectors of the supply chain is a massive challenge for any breed. However Texel is one of the very few that offers many of the solutions to producers farming across the diverse UK industry. But no compromise is needed in achieving producer needs as Texel ensures value is added to the processors as well, who clearly need fit not fat lambs presented. At fat class 4L they lose 3.0kg in fat during processing, but this is reduced to 1.5kg at class 2L and to 0.7kg at class 2. Well fleshed lambs are important, although excessive confirmation can also present problems. The effect of the recession has been that consumers want cheaper forequarter cuts rather than more expensive hindquarter meat, but despite that producers need to focus on hitting
weight, fat and confirmation targets. The best way to achieve this is to measure what you are doing and respond to feedback from processors.
The modern Texel is a fast growing animal, capable of producing bigger carcases which contain both more lean muscle, with only slight increases in fat.
texel spring 2013
A large number of lambs still fail to meet the carcase specification preferred by end users and the problem is worse towards the end of the season. National slaughter statistics suggest that almost 43% of lambs fall outside the preferred specification for most market outlets of EUR 2/3L, which is costing farmers and the industry.
Genetic trends for the texel breed show that a 6kg increase in live weight to scanning time consists of nearly 2kg more saleable muscle in the carcase and about 0.7kg more fat.
Abattoirs wonâ€™t penalise for a fat class 2, ie a lean lamb, but generally penalties will occur for going beyond a 3L. The price penalty for a 20Kg which slips to an R4L can be as much as ÂŁ3 a lamb, plus there is also the cost of the extra feed used to put on this fat to consider. National figures also show the percentage of lambs hitting specification declines over the winter months, from around 70% in June to nearer 47% in March. Fatty carcasses cost the industry more to process and there is likely to be a discounted price to retail. Many butchers donâ€™t trim fat, instead they end up paying less to the farmer, a 3L lamb
compared to a 3H or 4L could be worth 50p/kg more, so a farmer has provided a heavier animal that costs more to produce and received less return. Sending fat lambs to abbatoir is a waste of time and money, particularly considering they could have been sent a month earlier. There is also the wider implications for the livestock sector to consider, such as public perception of red meat. Recent market research by EBLEX suggests that 62% of consumers consider lamb to be tasty. , but 66% also regard it as a fatty meat. Fat has been on the radar due to health implications, but with recession and ongoing economic worries, its increasingly looked at from a plate wastage aspect. Consumers see lamb as an expensive item so they want to buy meat without plate waste. Excessive Intramuscular fat increases plate waste, as it requires higher temperatures to render down and is difficult to trim out. External subcutaneous fat can be trimmed off relatively easily, while a degree of intramuscular fat is essential to maintain taste and tenderness.
Maintaining an acceptable level of fat is essential to ensure meat quality, taste and tenderness, is controlled within acceptable levels.
Steven & Helen Illingworth
Producing the best all-round lamb, in terms of quality and finishing ability get a far better lamb with a Texel cross female, compared to a Mule, without losing too much lambing percentage or compromising on milkiness. You’ve also got a cast ewe at the end of the day that’s still worth a decent price,” he added.
For profitable prime lamb production, Stephen and Helen Illingworth have found that nothing can beat a Texel sire on their 400-strong Texel cross commercial flock at Eaglesfield, Lockerbie. Sheep numbers on the 375-acre Howgillside Farm include 300 Texel cross Mules, 100 Texel cross hoggs and 120 Mules (from which they breed their own replacements). There’s also the 40-ewe pedigree Glenrock Texel flock (winner of the Society Solway and Tyne club flock competition 2009 and 2010), which is run as a separate enterprise by their son and daughter, Tom and Victoria. The sheep, of course, are run alongside the family’s well-known Glenrock herd of pedigree Limousins, which have fetched up to 24,000gns through the auction ring. Pure cows, plus cross recipients, now total 70, but cattle numbers were up as high as 160 until a few years ago. “After losing all our sheep in the 2001 footand-mouth cull, we decided to wait five years before replacing them, so instead, we upped the commercial cow numbers. However, the ground here is far too wet for that amount of cattle, so we eventually cut the cattle numbers down and put the sheep back on,” said Stephen. “We had been using Texel cross Mules for 10 years prior to foot-and-mouth, so there was never any doubt that we’d go back to that type of female.You can
“For the prime lamb job, I’m looking for a long, tight skinned tup with a good backend. If a tup has worked well on the pedigree flock, then we’ll use it on the Mules first, to breed good female replacements,”
As for the choice of sire, Stephen is adamant that the Texel can produce the best all-round lamb, in terms of quality and finishing ability. This belief was reinforced last year, having used a Beltex on some of the flock as an experiment. “We had used a Beltex on some ewe hoggs and a few of the lambs had made really good money, so we thought we would try putting some more to that sire in 2011,” said Stephen. “However, it’s not something that we’d do again – because the ground is so wet here, we need to get as many lambs away before the end of September. We can get away with having around 150 left at that time, but last year we had 400 left. The Beltex crosses didn’t finish quick enough or weigh enough. Having been treated the same as the Texel crosses, they were 1-1.5kg behind.” Consequently, Stephen is in no doubt that he’ll return to solely using Texel sires, which normally include home-bred tups, or stock tups which Tom and Victoria have finished using on the pedigree
texel spring 2013
flock. “For the prime lamb job, I’m looking for a long, tight skinned tup with a good backend. If a tup has worked well on the pedigree flock, then we’ll use it on the Mules first, to breed good female replacements,” explained Stephen. Lambing at Howgillside begins at the end of March with the Texel cross ewes, followed two weeks later by the Mules and hoggs. The ewes will have been fed silage and ewe cobs from mid-January onwards, although due to this year’s weather, blocks were used from tupping time onwards, with the addition of fodder beet too. “We lamb inside but put the ewes and lambs back out after a day. They then go in batches of 40 around the farm for a few weeks. “The sheep graze the fields that the cows have grazed the year before, usually in groups of 100,” Stephen added.
The fat lambs are almost all finished off grass, and additionally, Stephen normally grows 15-20 acres of a rape/kale hybrid, Swift, for those that need it. They are
mainly sold to Vivers, with any remaining going to Longtown or Lockerbie marts. “The lambs all go for export through Vivers, so they don’t want anything above 21kg, and are looking for E or U grades. We’re paid a flat rate for the lot, and because they pick them themselves, they get exactly what they are looking for,” Stephen said.
it was nearer £13/head. The cost of production has gone up, but in the same vein, the price they make has gone down,” said Stephen. “As for the fluke problem, we are changing the drench we use every year in a bid to combat immunity, and we’re also going to start treating them earlier in the year – monthly, from August onwards,” he added.
In 2011, the 512 lambs sold to Vivers averaged 19.4kg and made £4.45/kg, in comparison to 2012’s batch of 440, which, after suffering from the poor weather, weighed an average 18.6kg, and made £4/ kg. For the first time, Stephen also sold 200 store lambs at the end of August, receiving an average £71 for them. The last couple of years have been tough, with rainfall reaching 90” at Howgillside, compared to the 55” recorded when the Illingworths moved to Eaglesfield 18 years ago. It has brought with it a number of challenges, including an increase in fluke, a drop in lambing percentage, and of course, higher feed costs.
Due to the continued wet weather, and in an effort to cut down numbers on the ground, the Illingworths have decided that they’ll stop breeding their own replacement females, and instead, buy them in each year. “It’s just too wet now, and we’ve too many feet on the ground to feed, but if we can cut down on hoggs by buying in replacements, it means we can still produce the same number of lambs. However, we’ll have to be wary of foot problems with those we buy in – we can keep on top of that at the moment because they are all home-bred.” Here’s hoping 2013 will bring some improved weather…it surely can’t get any wetter!
“We worked out that the food bill for 2011’s lambs was £8/head, while in 2012
National Sales & Shows Northern Ireland National
Monday 12th & Tuesday 13th August
Friday 23rd & Saturday 24th August
Wednesday 21st & Thursday 22nd August
Monday 26th & Tuesday 27th August
Sale & Show Dates 2013
Society Club Sales & Ram Sales 5th August
Builth Wells NSA Wales & Border Clee, Tompkinson & Francis 01874 622 488
Sedgemoor Greenslade, Taylor Hunt 01278 410 278
wilton Southern Counties 01722 321 215
worcester McCartneys 01905 769 700
10th August Chelford Frank Marshall 01625 861 122
carlisle Harrison & Hetherington 01228 406 230
exeter south west club sale Kivells & Husseys 01392 252 262
llandovery Clee, Tompkinson & Francis 01874 622 488
Gaerwen Morgan & Evans 01248 723 303
shrewsbury S.L.A 01743 462 620
Kendal Kendal Auction Mart Lawrie & Symington 01555 662 281
ruthin Ruthin Farmers Auction 01824 702 025
ruthin dutch texel Parker 01233 502 222
19th September lanark Lawrie & Symington 01555 662 281
19-20th September skipton Craven Cattle Mart 01756 792 375
21st September bakewell Bagshaws 01629 812 777
builth wells nsa rams Clee, Tompkinson & Francis 01874 622 488
24th September thainstone Aberdeen & Northern Mart 01467 623 710
26th September clitheroe Lawrie & Symington 01555 662 281
27th September leyburn Leyburn Livestock Auction Mart 01969 926 167
28th September carlisle Harrison & Hetherington 01228 406 230
3rd October welshpool Welshpool Livestock 01938 553 438
2nd-3rd December thainstone Aberdeen & Northern Marts 01467 623 710
6th December carlisle Harrison & Hetherington 01228 406 230
7th December worcester McCartneys 01905 769 700
14th December skipton Craven Cattle Mart 01756 792 375
20th December welshpool Welshpool Livestock Sales 01928 553 438
20th December llandovery Clee, Tompkinson & Francis 01874 622 488
Society Club Sales Northern Ireland 26th August
rathfriland Rathfriland Farmers Co-Op 028 4063 8493
armoy D McAllister 028 2177 1227
hilltown Hilltown Mart 028 4063 0287
grotin Richard Beattie’s Livestock Sales 028 8164 7105
lisahally Richard Beattie’s Livestock Sales 028 8164 7105
swatragh Sperrin & Bann Valley 028 7940 1335
ballymena J A McClelland 028 2563 3470
clogher Richard Beattie’s Livestock Sales 028 8164 7105
ballymena J A McClelland 028 2563 3470
enniskillen Ulster Farmers Mart 028 6632 2218
Date & Venue to be confirmed in-lamb ewe Further details contact N.I Club Secretary 07791 679 112