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TEXEL

issue 5 SPRING 2015

Primestock A Texel Sheep Society Publication

Texel breed providing valuable tool in managing market volatility Listening to market signals drives producers to increasing use of Texel

Upland & hill producers reaping benefits by changing to Texel A focus on performance of flocks helps drive margins

Texel sired lambs carry finish at all points in their growth they can be finished at a wide range of weights, enabling farmers to draw lambs at any time to suit the trade and the needs of the market

National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, CV8 2LG Tel: 02476 696 629 Fax: 02476 696 472 Email: office@texel.co.uk

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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.

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TEXEL anytime, anywhere, anyhow… Welcome to our 5th edition of our PRIMESTOCK magazine. Its packed full of useful tips and endorsements from well respected sheep producers from the length and breadth of the UK. Thanks to Texels’ innate hardiness and ability to thrive off relatively poor pasture the breed is a leading choice for farmers in a diverse range of locations. Whether lowland or upland producers, all find Texel meeting their requirements and offering a valuable tool in managing market volatility. Texel sired lambs carry finish at all points in their growth they can be finished at a wide range of weights, enabling farmers to draw lambs at any time to suit the trade and the needs of the market. These important commercial traits have made Texel the most popular terminal sire breed in the UK, representing 29% of all rams used in the national flock, as well as also being the sire breed for 12.5% of the national ewe flock. Throughout the breed’s time in the UK breeders have sought to develop and improve their stock and performance recording has played a key part in the breed’s development. As a result today’s Texel rams have a better lean meat to fat ratio than ever before and have significantly higher growth rates than their ancestors. These valuable traits are conferred to their progeny no matter the dam breed, leaving quick growing lambs with great conformation which are much in demand from butchers and processors and for domestic or export trade. Having been at the forefront of the development of performance recording the Texel breed is now leading the way in the implementation of “next generation technologies” utilising genomics to further aid breed development. This exciting new technology is currently being used to develop EBVs for previously hard to measure traits, including important and commercially relevant health traits. Through this ground breaking work the breed aims to help commercial producers improve flock productivity and profitability, with Texels firmly at the heart of the commercial sheep sector.

John John Yates Chief Executive

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Texel lamb vigour and the breed’s ability to finish off grass, essential to Cumbrian commercial sheep farmer. Adrian Bateson, Wigton, Cumbria

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them again, my main focus is on conformation. Tups that last well and have good health combined with shape are my ideal.”

Farming in partnership with his parents, John and Sheila, on the 550 acre Rigg House Farm at Branthwaite, Wigton, the family run a flock of 1500 North of England Mule ewes.

The majority of the 1500 ewes are lambed within 20 days in April with ewes housed from Christmas time.

drian Bateson prefers Texel cross lambs for their vigour at birth and ease of finishing from grass.

Texel tups have been used for 20 years by the Bateson family who run 28 tups each year across the flock.

“Our short lambing period is down to nature, we aim to have ewes in optimum condition before tupping and this gets the best results. Tups are left with the ewes as we would rather have a late lamber than a geld ewe.

“I have never known anything else,” explains Mr Bateson. “While I have been farming at home we have always used Texels, although my Dad did previously use Suffolks.

“About 95% of the flock lambs in 20 days, after scanning they are split in to management groups depending on the number of lambs, time of lambing and condition.”

“There isn’t anything I’d like to change about the system we currently have and the Texel cross works well for us. The main advantage is being able to finish the majority of lambs off grass, making it as cost effective as possible.”

During winter when most ewes are housed they are fed a TMR mix of grass silage with brewers grains and barley. The ration is adapted to suit each group’s requirements and for three weeks prior to lambing soya is added.

When purchasing new stock rams Mr Bateson buys at local breeding sales, mainly at Cockermouth Auction. Explaining his selection process Mr Bateson says: “I look for size and conformation when buying new tups and prefer to buy shearlings because they have to be ready to work and fit for purpose. “We buy to a budget of £500 with eight tups purchased every year. If tups from one breeder do well then I do try to buy from

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Everything is lambed inside and transferred in to mothering pens for 24 hours to prevent mis-mothering. All being well ewes and lambs are then turned out and no additional concentrates are fed after this point.

“The main advantage of Texel cross lambs is at lambing time, the lambs have very good vigour and are up and sucking quickly. They are also well covered with wool, so they are hardy enough to withstand the weather when they are turned out at a day old.

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The farm is very exposed with wind and rain often a concern at lambing time. However, lambing in April we are fortunate enough not to have to worry too often about snow.”

Each year about 2500 lambs are finished with 85% being finished off grass with no additional feeding. Depending on the spring weather the first lambs are usually sold at the beginning of July. “The ability of the Texel lamb to finish off grass means that we are able to make the best use of our grass and it is a huge benefit not having to feed concentrates.

However, in 2013, lighter lambs were sought after at the start of the season and so lambs were sold in June. “We were able to take the opportunity to sell lambs early because the Texel lambs are able to be finished at a variety of weights meaning they can be sold to suit the market demand.” Lambs are finished at 43kg with the majority sold deadweight direct to Woodheads and killing out at 19.5kg. “The Texel cross Mule consistently hits the middle spec with an R or U grade carcass,” explains Mr Bateson. “Being able to produce even, uniform batches of lambs really helps with marketing and we feel the Texel does this best.”

“We save approximately £1 per lamb by selling deadweight, which considering the numbers sold fairly adds up.” Replacement ewes are purchased privately from a couple of farms as shearlings. “Being able to buy from only one or two farms each year means we aren’t mixing a lot of unknowns as far as disease is concerned. We’ve been happy with how the sheep have performed and continue to return to the same farms each year.” Like most west Cumbrian farms, Mr Bateson is constantly battling with fluke in the flock. “The farm is fairly wet and we have to monitor the fluke situation regularly. We take samples and when there is an issue they are dosed to try and keep on top of it.” “Following the wet summer of 2012 our grass yields were hit hard with a knock on affect noticed in 2013. Over the past two years direct drill reseeding has been used with good results and better crops.” The farm which has been in the Bateson family for almost 100 years also had a suckler herd until last spring. Going back a generation there were 100 sheep and 20 cows farmed at Rigg House, Mr Bateson’s father drained the land which is quite heavy and used to be wet. At the peak in 2000 there were 140 cows in the herd with numbers gradually reducing to 50 latterly. The last of the herd was sold off in 2013 and now plans are to continue to increase sheep numbers with Texel remaining the firm favourite!

“I prefer selling deadweight because the market doesn’t fluctuate as much or as quickly as the live price. Although it reacts slower on an increasing market it is also slower to decrease.

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Big advantage found with the reduced workload at lambing time. Texel lambs are hardy, with plenty get-up-and-go! Ian Watt - Hillhead, Gargunnock

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en years ago, Ian Watt began using Texel tups on his cross hoggs for ease of lambing, but the quality of the lambs quickly persuaded him to start using them across his entire Scotch Mule flock. The Watts run a predominantly Blackface flock (750 ewes) at Hillhead, Gargunnock, a 1250-acre hill farm near Stirling with just 185 non-LFA acres. Up until now, all the Blackies have gone to the Bluefaced Leicester, to produce Mule lambs, but this year, Ian bred 100 pure, with the plan being to breed his own replacement ewe lambs. The majority of the Scotch Mule ewe lambs (400-450/year) are sold through United Auctions, Stirling, but Ian keeps 60-70 each year to join the breeding flock of 240 Mule ewes.“We aim for big ewes with good coats. They make tremendous, milky mothers and are so easy to work with – and they seem to click perfectly with the Texel,” explained Ian.

“I was so impressed with the lambs – they were up on their feet and sucking straight away, and after speaning, they never lost any condition, but kept motoring on.” Ian sells 450-500 Texel cross lambs a year, and in 2014, he had 115 away by 3rd July. That lot averaged 41.5kg liveweight and averaged £84.50, selling to a top of £109. They are all sold through the ring at United Auctions’ Stirling Mart. “I used to sell deadweight, but I prefer having more control and like being able to pick what day I’m putting the lambs away. On the downside, it means I never know what price I’ll get until I get to the market.”

“I can get a high number of lambs with the Mule ewes – they scan at 200% - and crossing them with the Texel ensures a good quality lamb too,” he added.

The cross ewes are speaned in mid-July, as Ian aims to leave 100 days between speaning and the tups going back out. That means 90% of the lambs are sold straight off grass, with any left over put onto rape, while any spare triplets are fed on a Volac feeder and then put onto pellets. “We used to run 25-30 sets of triplets, but I don’t leave any with triplets now and the hoggs are left with one lamb, we take any spare twins off them.”

Having previously used Suffolks on the Mule flock, Ian initially started using a Texel on the hoggs alone.

The Mules are all lambed inside from 20th March, with Ian leaving them outside as long as possible beforehand.

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“It’s probably more work having them inside, but it means I have more control and it makes more sense when we don’t have any other full-time staff. “The cross ewes are fed eight weeks before lambing and after scanning anything that looks too fit is put onto rough grazing to get a bit of flesh off them and reduce the risk of prolapse,” he added. Feeding includes a combination of home-grown oats, with bought-in beet pulp and soya, mixed to 17.5% protein. As lambing approaches the protein is upped to 19-20%. “We’ve tried other proteins, but have found soya the best for putting milk on the ewes. The housed sheep also get minerals. “Our ground rises from 50ft to 1500ft and is lacking in cobalt and copper, so we bolus the ewes and drench the lambs for cobalt and use needles for copper,” explained Ian, who feels that his current system is making the best use out of the land he has. “I mainly work away myself with extra help when I need it. I could do with a full-time member of staff, but financially I just can’t justify it. For that reason I try to keep the system as simple as possible using the ground to its best advantage. “On the non-LFA acres there are 90 of permanent grass (for 240 Mule ewes and 60 Mule hoggs), plus we grow 75 acres of Timothy hay and 20 acres of oats. The LFA ground has 220 acres which are ploughable, with the rest hill and rough grazing (home to the 750 Blackface ewes).”

When it comes to buying Texel tups Ian usually purchases from Stirling or Kelso sales, with his priorities being length and skins. So far they have come from the Duncryne, Allanfauld, Dyke, Elmscleugh and Scrogtonhead flocks. “For my budget I try to stick to the price of 10 fat lambs, but I often have to break that budget to get what I want! However, I never feel that I have a lack of choice, there are always plenty good quality tups to choose from.

“I feel the Texel breed is doing a good job of looking after the commercial man. In the time that I’ve used them, they have continuously improved – they are definitely longer now, but haven’t lost their shape,” said Ian. “It’s a breed that’s easy to get in to – if you produce good sheep, they will sell. But, the biggest advantage I’ve found is the reduced workload at lambing time. Texel lambs are hardy, with plenty getup-and-go,” he added.

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Versatile lamb crop which can be finished at a range of weights and which attract premium prices drives enterprise John Cook & Sons, Pershore, Worcestershire

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versatile lamb crop which can be finished at a range of weights and which attract premium prices from live market buyers have driven the Cook family to focus their sheep enterprise on top quality genetics. The family, father John and sons Richard and Andy, lamb 2500 ewes along with 200 ewe lambs, with the ewe flock largely based on North Country Mule genetics, crossed to Texel sires, with a number of Suffolk x Mule and Welsh Mule ewes also included. “We also retain our own homebred Texel cross females which are proving to be exceptionally good. They produce a good sized lamb crop without excessive numbers and the three quarter Texel lambs are exactly the type buyers are looking for in the live markets,” explains Pershore, Worcestershire-based John Cook. “We finish all our lambs ourselves, drawing a number straight off grass in early summer from the March lambing ewes and a large number also finished later in the year to meet the rising trade in the autumn and early winter. “Lambs are sold mainly through local live markets, with regular draws heading to Worcester, Ross-on-Wye, Cirencester and Ludlow, with lambs drawn to suit buyer requirements at each market,” he adds.

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“We know the buyers and the type of lamb they’re looking for, so are careful to make sure we draw the right type of lamb to suit their needs. Crucially though most of the buyers are willing to pay a premium for white headed lambs, so we now use exclusively Texel sires across the flock, apart from the ewe lambs.” Richard Cook says tup choice is made on the basis of both visual selection and past performance, with the family regularly buying up to 20 ram lambs a year from the English Premier Sale at Worcester. “We try to keep an eye on the type of lambs the rams leave and then look to go back to the same breeders again if they have the lambs to suit our needs. “We try to buy well bred lambs from some of the better pens, but at the lower end of the price spectrum whenever possible. When you’re buying the numbers of tups we are you have to keep to a budget whenever possible. We will pay a little more for a tup we really like the look of though.” And while some commercial buyers can be nervous of buying ram lambs Richard Cook says so long as they are worked carefully and well looked after in their first season it isn’t an issue. “We let the ram lambs have about 40 ewes apiece in their first year to give them a chance to grow on well and then the shearlings and older rams get anything up to 100 ewes each.”

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Lambing is split between 1000 ewes lambing inside in March and the remainder lambing in April, with singles and triplets in the second batch lambed inside and twins lambed outside. Feeding is kept to a minimum after lambing to avoid mis-mothering. This split in lambing eases the workload at this crucial time of year and also allows a portion of the ram team to be used twice, covering ewes in both the early and later lambing flocks. It is a policy which is working well, with scanning percentages hitting as high as 230% in some groups of ewes last year and averaging over 200% across the entire flock, says Andy Cook. “This year we’re planning to retain about 1000 Texel sired ewe lambs to ensure we can breed the type of white faced lambs that are earning the premium prices.

We also plan to sell a number of these Texel cross females as there is a strong demand for them both locally and further afield.” The increase in the number of ewe lambs being retained will be facilitated by a small reduction in ewe numbers, with the family renting some poorer quality ground better suited to running dry sheep. “There is plenty of harder ground locally which isn’t suited to arable production and is ideal for growing lambs in to shearlings on.” But prime lamb production will still remain the core focus of the business and John Cook says the success being enjoyed with Texel sired lambs is testament to the breed’s ability to adapt and thrive.

“The great thing we find with the Texel crosses is that they can be taken to a variety of weights without getting too fat. They lay down flesh as both lighter lambs and right the way through to the heavier weights, which gives us plenty of marketing options. “We generally take our first significant draw of lambs in late June and early July and draw lambs through the summer depending

on the trade. A lot of our lambs tend to be grown on the poorer ground and then finished on better grass with a little hard feed too. “Last year we sold all our lambs before the turn of the year, finishing a number inside on hard feed later in the year.

The great thing is that the Texel crosses don’t take a lot of feed to get great flesh on and are always well sought after.” Most lambs are weaned towards the end of July to leave the ewes chance to flesh up before tupping, but the Cooks are careful not to actively flush any ewes as this can result in excessive lamb crops. “We wean according to ewe condition. We want to be lambing at about the 200% mark and have found that flushing our type of ewe can result in a lot of triplets which we really want to avoid. Not only do you end up with a spare lamb you have to set on or rear artificially, but the two lambs you leave on the ewe are never quite as good either,” says John Cook. Post weaning the lambs move on to aftermaths from the family’s hay ground and are stocked in large groups to make drawing prime lambs simpler. “When we get the lambs in to decent sized groups we know we can go in to most groups and draw a couple of trailer loads at a time which makes management much simpler. Lambs are drawn at about the 42kg mark meeting the demand for medium weight, well fleshed lambs.” Looking ahead the family are keen to maximise performance from grass and are including red clover in most of the new leys they’re establishing as part of the grassland rotation. “Red clover is a great feed for lambs and they finish well off the aftermaths, it lifts the protein levels and the Texel lambs really thrive off it.” Other terminal sires have been used in the past, says Richard Cook. “But we’re conscious off the market demands at the moment for good strong white faced lambs and they’re making decent money for us. On top of that Texel sired lambs have great vigour at birth and are hardy enough to cope with the worst of the weather, even when lambing outside.”

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Texel tups provide flexibility for Lleyn flock to produce cross-bred prime lambs David Knowles, Kendall, Cumbria

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or Lleyn breeder David Knowles, the use of terminal sires on pure-bred and cross-bred ewes has paid dividends.

Using a Texel on about a third of the farm’s pedigree Lleyn flock provides cross-bred prime lambs, breeding ewes and has real benefits in added flexibility for pedigree breeding says Lake District farmer, David Knowles. Mr Knowles, who farms with his father, Peter, at Cragg Farm, New Hutton, Kendal, says his family’s involvement with the Lleyn breed goes back to 1992. Falling demand for their Masham breeding ewes at the time, coupled with the introduction of the Lleyn breed to Cumbria, led to the foundation of their present Lleyn flock. The Lleyns settled in well on their 126-hectare (310-acre) upland farm, which rises from 213 metres to 305m (700-1,000ft) above sea level, dispelling any fears the Lleyn, originally from the mild climate of North West Wales, might struggle under the harder conditions of Cumbria. Up until 2010, Cragg Farm was run as a mixed dairy and sheep unit with 420 breeding ewes made up of pure Lleyns plus 50 Texel cross Lleyns and about 60 pedigree Holstein milking cows. Mr Knowles says: “We decided to drop milking for a number of reasons. It was a mix of the logistics of the farm. We would have had to upgrade our dairy facilities and Dad was at retirement age. “On top of this, our milk buyers imposed a 1p per litre transport charge even though they collect from a large dairy unit nearby. They said it was uneconomical for them to continue to collect a relatively small amount of milk from us without the additional charge. “However, the balance between cattle and sheep on the farm has remained about the same as we moved into rearing pedigree Holstein dairy heifers and selling them newly calved at Bentham Market, Lancaster and Junction 36. “We thought as dairy units become bigger, these large units will want to concentrate on milk production rather than rearing their own replacements. This, we hope, will give a strong ongoing demand for newly-calved dairy heifers.”

Breeding ewes

Mr Knowles says: “This had worked well, but falling demand for the Masham ewe and a need for greater consistency in the prime lambs we produced led to us changing to a system where we could breed our own replacements.” The present system means they can run a closed flock, apart from having to buy in tups. “We decided against establishing a pedigree Texel flock to breed our own tups as buying in gives us a far greater choice of rams. “The key advantage of the Texel is it gives high quality, white-faced lambs which suit today’s markets. At the moment, about two-thirds of the Lleyn ewes are being bred pure, with the rest going to the Texel.

Prime lambs

“Initially we were using Texels just for prime lamb sales, but more interest has been shown for the female lambs as flock replacements over the last five years. The Texel cross Lleyn lambs have the qualities of the Lleyn dam, being good mothers, milky and tight skinned, but they also have the attributes of the Texel sire adding more conformation.

“There is definitely a market for the Texel cross-bred ewes. Farmers are looking for a white-faced sheep which is uniform in type, medium size, can rear two lambs off a predominantly grassbased diet and produce top quality, eyecatching prime lambs. “We now retain a small number of ewe lambs each year and have built up a flock of 75 Lleyn cross Texel ewes, which are bred back to the Texel or Blue Texel. “The Lleyn ewe is still the heart of the flock, with the Texelcrossed ewes allowing us to breed our own replacements which is our paramount objective - not only from a disease point of view, but financially as well. “You do not have to go out each autumn and write a large cheque for your replacement ewes. Breeding your own gives you great satisfaction and you can breed the type of ewe you like, which suits your farm.”

Before 1992 the Knowles family bought-in draft Rough Fell ewes and crossed them with a Teeswater to give Masham breeding ewes.

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The Lleyn cross Texel ewe lambs are sold off the farm and have, over the last few years, been sold to the North of Scotland and down into the Midlands, with many customers returning says Mr Knowles.

good spring and summer, plus the strengthening pound, the export market is less attractive. “The Texel cross lambs are usually away slightly sooner than purebred Lleyn prime lambs.

Condition

Grades

Ewes are brought inside in batches of about 100 from early January onwards, starting with those which are not at the optimum condition. Eventually all ewes, apart from a few singles, are brought inside.

“Both sell at about 42kg liveweight, with the Texel crosses hitting E and U grades while 95 per cent of our pure Lleyns consistently achieve R3L and better. Lambs out of Texel cross Lleyn dams produce a greater number of E and U grades.”

“Generally our Lleyns carrying pure Lleyn lambs scan at about 190 per cent and those carrying Texel cross lambs a little less, at about 180 per cent.

Texel tups are all bought-in and Mr Knowles says he is looking for big, shapely animals, rather than the smaller Dutch type.

“We do not worry if those with Texel cross lambs have singles as there are normally Lleyns with triplets so we are able to foster lambs with the aim of the majority of our ewes rearing two lambs.” Ewes are fed silage plus a 16% ewe pellet, which changes to an 18% pellet at the end of March and through April. As long as weather conditions allow, ewes and lambs go out about 24 to 48 hours after lambing. “We will get our first prime lambs away in early July and sell on a mix of live and deadweight systems, depending on the market,” explains Mr Knowles. “The first lambs we sold this year (2014) made more than £90 per head, but prices have now dropped to more like £70. It seems the autumn glut has come earlier this year. With more lambs around, a

Mr Knowles says: “We have now found our feet since selling the dairy cows and have developed a good market for selling our dairy heifers. The sheep flock now has some better grazing which has helped lamb growth. The Lleyn is still the main ewe on the farm and the introduction of the Texel has allowed us to produce some top quality prime lambs and further develop another maternal dam. “Both breeds seem to gel well and can increase the production and profitability of any flock when used together.”

Cragg Farm

The farm is mostly permanent grass and rainfall is about 1,500mm (60in) annually Stock comprises 420 breeding ewes made up of pure Lleyns plus about 75 Texel cross Lleyns and about 170 Holstein dairy heifers.

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Making the most of

lamb growth rates YOUR EXPERT

Dr Catherine Nakielny PhD

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egardless of production system, lamb growth rate is a great indicator of the flock’s nutrition, health and genetics as well as being one of the most important drivers of flock profitability. These are five reasons why measuring lamb growth rate is important:

For some systems, slow growing lambs may be more profitable and provided all associated costs are taken into account this can be a viable system. The aim, however, is for this to be a planned approach to lamb selling decisions rather than a result of poor performance due to nutrition or health issues earlier in the season.

1. Well-fed ewes will milk well and lambs will achieve high growth rates while milk is an important component of the diet. What levels of growth rate are lambs achieving to eight weeks of age? 2. Lambs perform best with access to plenty of high quality forage. Is grassland management focused on maximising the digestibility of the crop? 3. Concentrate and creep feeding can play a useful role in lamb finishing systems when sufficient grass or forage crops are not available? Are the growth rates being achieved sufficient to make this input cost effective? 4. Good health will help maximise growth rates. Wormer resistance is on the increase so is this reducing performance? 5. Feed is used more efficiently at higher growth rates. Are the resources available being used fully? When discussing growth rate it is often highlighted that slower growing lambs are more profitable when sold later on in the season. Even with improvements in growth rate there will always be a spread of lamb sales with some being sold later on in a season. While lambs sold at a higher price later on might lead to higher prices they may not always cover the increase in costs associated with being on farm for a longer period. It’s important to take into account: • Feed costs. Grazing has a cost and typical figures are quoted as 6p/kg of dry matter produced. How much does your grass cost? • Vet and medicine. The longer lambs are on farm the more likely they are to need treatments for worms, flies and external parasites.Vaccinations may also be required along with the labour involved with any treatments given • Losses. Hopefully losses can be kept to a minimum, but even at a low level the cost can add up with the loss of income and cost of disposal • Labour. This should always be taken into account with the time taken to check and manage stock. How much are you worth an hour? • Other stock. It’s not only the feed required for lambs that needs to be taken into account. Could selling lambs earlier on in the season increase feed available for ewes and replacement stock? Is grass at 6p/kg having to be supplemented for silage for ewes at 12p/kg or concentrates at 25p/kg

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TEXEL TOP TIPS

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Grazing

management

Creep feeding Does creep feeding pay? Creep feeding can be a cost-effective solution provided it is used when market returns are high enough and there are no cheaper options for forage crops. Top tip: Make sure underlying health issues do not increase finishing times as for early lambing and finishing systems days to market is key.

Managing sward height is vital. Too short and lambs can’t consume enough nutrients and are more at risk of picking up infective worm larvae. Too long and the sward can lose digestibility and performance will also suffer. Top tip: Start measuring key grazing fields with a sward stick. Even a simple ruler can measure grass height Consider how grass is grazed. Good performance can result from set stocking, but better results can often be achieved by rotational grazing. Top tip: Consider the layout of the land available to see if rotational grazing is an option.The process can be started initially with lambs post-weaning rather than converting the whole system at once.

Make the most of genetics. With high growth rate Texel rams available make the most of genetics by using rams with good growth and carcass EBVs. Top tip: Select rams from breeders who both performance record and manage rams to maximise their longevity and performance. Monitor and measure. Knowing how lambs are growing is vital and regular weighing can play a valuable role. EID technology means that individual lambs can be identified and monitored, but even without this option, regularly weighing a proportion of lambs is a really useful tool.

Don’t be caught out by worms. Worm infections reduce lamb performance and at high levels can lead to permanent poor performance in individual animals or even death. Infections are often hidden and by the time problems are seen the damage has been done. Top tip: Test for wormer resistance by carrying out a faecal egg count reduction test to know which wormer groups are working on the farm. Consider routine monitoring of worm burdens through the use of ‘mob’ faecal egg counts in-conjunction with the monitoring of lamb growth rates.

Top tip: Set targets for lamb growth rate and measure and monitor actual performance.

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We are getting the most we can out of the sheep, selling the lambs off grass and running the flock as cheaply as possible. Jim Goldie & Family - Skipmyre

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n some extremely wet ground at Skipmyre Farm, near Dumfries, Texel crosses make up the majority of the Goldie family’s 550-strong ewe flock.

But, that has not always been the case – until just seven years ago, the flock was made up predominantly of Greyface ewes.

“We’re increasing the Texels all the time, they seem to have just clicked here and really suit the farm,” explained Jim Goldie, who farms at Skipmyre with his wife Marion and sons Craig and Lewis.

“Compared to the Greyfaces, the lambing percentage is the same (190% in 2014); plus they are easier kept; keep their condition well and have better lambs too,” he added. The Goldies run 130 suckler cows alongside 400 Texel cross ewes and 150 Scotch Mules – which are all put to Texel tups. The cows get priority over the good grazing, and the sheep get the rest, so it’s important they are able to cope with the heavy ground. “We’ve always used Texel tups and started keeping a few of the Texel cross ewe lambs to breed with, which worked really well, so we continued to introduce them into the flock. We’ve also bought some from breeding sales at Carlisle – they are cheaper to buy than Mules and the cast ewes are worth more at the end of the day. “We have bought Texel cross ewes at £130 a head and sold them as cast ewes for £120,” said Jim, who hopes to breed all his own replacement females eventually. Lambing begins in March, which is later than it used to be, but Jim says it can be a struggle to have enough grass in early spring. The ewes are all lambed inside – they come in as soon as the ground gets too wet outside, which is normally December, although those with singles are kept out as long as possible. “Ewes are split into lots in the sheds, depending on scanning, and fed a TMR ration of maize, gluton and beet pulp, with some silage and molasses. They also receive an 18% ewe nut just before and after lambing. “The Texel crosses are fed the same as the Mules – 1kg in the run up to lambing – and are put back outside as soon as possible,” said Jim. Lambs are sold straight off grass from 12 weeks

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onwards, at around 42kg – all 800 of them through Lockerbie and Dumfries Marts. “We’ve always done well selling the lambs live through the ring, so we’ve never felt the need to do otherwise. They normally start off around £95/head and average out at £85. “The Texel lambs certainly seem to sell best at fat sales. We’ve found since switching to the Texel cross females too the lambs are higher quality, with better shape and conformation.”Tups go out at the end of September and generally one is needed per 40 ewes. The ewe lambs are no longer tupped until they are gimmers, as Jim felt that lambing them as hoggs was stunting their growth as ewes. New tups are bought as shearlings from Carlisle and Kelso, with the Goldies looking particularly for length, as they feel that makes a big difference to the lambs, and of course, shape.

“The breed definitely has more length in it now, it has changed for the better over the years. We find it easy enough to pick tups that we want – it’s getting them within budget that’s the problem!” he said.

With that in mind, Jim’s eldest son Craig, who works at home and also for a local contractor, has recently started up his own pedigree flock, under the Skipmyre prefix. The family hopes to eventually have some homebred tups to use on the commercial flock. On the cattle side, the Limousin cross cows are put to the Charolais bull, with the best of the calves sold as yearling stores or retained for breeding and the rest finished at home.“I’d say I’m more confident in the sheep industry than the cattle at the moment,” explained Jim. “We’re are getting the most we can out of the sheep, selling the lambs off grass and running the flock as cheaply as possible.

And, as long as the lambing percentages hold up, there’s no reason we’d ever have anything but Texel cross ewes now,” he added.

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“Selecting the right rams is one of the cornerstones to maintaining quality when producing 6000 lambs each year” Gareth Jones farm manager for Lord Newborough, Rhug Estate, Corwen

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here can be no compromises in a sheep enterprise that produces organic lamb for the world’s most discerning chefs. For the farm manager of the Rhug Estate near Corwen, selecting the right rams is one of the cornerstones to maintaining quality. Gareth Jones oversees three flocks on behalf of Lord Newborough. The flocks produce up to 6000 organic lambs throughout the year, not only for Michelin-starred restaurants, but also for the Rhug Estate’s farm shop and restaurant, for export to Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai and to supply the supermarket chain, Waitrose.

Texel rams are used as tups on North of England Mules to produce a sizeable commercial lamb. “We have used the Texel on one of the flocks for more than 20 years, it is important to have the right spec of ram,’’ says Gareth. In 2012 the business changed its breeding policy, replacing Romneys with North Country Mule ewes. Crossed with a Texel tup on one flock and a Charollais on another, it produces a lamb with excellent conformation and meat with remarkable texture and flavour.

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Gareth says the breed enables the business to maximise the advantages of farming within the Glastir Advanced scheme. Eight hundred acres of mountain land previously farmed by a tenant has now come back in hand and is the ideal environment for Swaledale ewes, introduced to provide replacements for the Mule flocks. Texel rams are sourced from local farms. “We have some very good pedigree Texel breeders in north Wales, so we buy from them when we can, but we also buy from National Sheep Association sales and other sales,’’ Gareth explains. “Once we find a breeder with good rams we tend to use them again and again. We are looking for a good commercial ram rather than one which will produce for the pedigree market.’’

Around 100 rams are kept overall. “We don’t want anything that is too big now we are running mules,’’ says Gareth.

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Foot health is good across all three flocks. “We don’t get many issues with footrot, so we don’t vaccinate for that, just spot treat when needed. We take measures in our health plan to prevent it.’’ The same approach is adopted with parasite control. Fecal egg counts are undertaken before tupping and at the point of lambing. The flock is given a fluke treatment once a year, with a 120 day withdrawal period to comply with organic regulations. Blood samples are taken to establish the trace element status of ewes and lambs. Last year ewes were bolused pre-tupping. Monitoring is at the heart of the organic system.

“We do a lot of monitoring, we don’t just do things routinely. We only treat if we have checked the animals and intervention is needed,’’ Gareth explains. “We look for well-muscled tups, not necessarily length as we have the length and frame in the ewes. We want a ram capable of producing two live lambs that will survive lambing.’’ The flock put to Texels lambs outdoors from the end of March. The ewes are flushed and teasers run with the flock ahead of tupping in November. “We aim to lamb to coincide with grass growth,’’ says Gareth. Seven hundred and fifty Mule ewes scanned at the beginning of January achieved a scanning percentage of 203%. Among those there were just 18 empties or ewes than needed rescanning. A rotation of arable and root crops means there are young leys for grazing. “We grow 120 acres of arable silage which we undersow and this gives us clean grazing for the lambs in the autumn. Being organic we put a lot of emphasis on red and white clover,’’ says Gareth.

Lambs are finished on 140 acres of stubble turnips in the winter. Pre-lambing, ewes are fed an 18% protein organic compound feed. The quantity fed depends on litter size, ewe condition and silage quality. Twin-bearing ewes are fed a month before lambing but, if the silage quality is good, singles might not get any concentrates. “It is more difficult to balance the feed requirements of a flock at grass. There is a danger of tipping the balance,’’ Gareth admits. “We want the ewes to produce enough milk, but we don’t want the lambs to get too big.’’

Around 250 ewe lambs are retained annually as replacements for each flock. It is evident that the workforce at Rhug, which includes shepherds John Dyke and Robert Hughes, takes great pride in what they do. For Gareth, a key test that they are delivering what their customers require is the long standing relationships they have with those. “We supply some of the best restaurants in the world and they rave about our lamb. That is the key test. “As an industry we can talk about performance figures and conformation, but I feel the industry has lost its way with the European grid. There has been a brilliant show of animals at recent fatstock shows, but it is making the connection with the consumer that really matters, not what an animal looks like in the show ring. “It is all very well selling to a restaurant, but it is those repeat orders that confirm that you are doing the job well. The quality has got to be right for that to happen and that is what gives us the satisfaction, knowing we are producing a top quality product.’’ He admits that even in a business that has an established customer base there are always opportunities to improve further. For Rhug, the next step will be to run a closed flock. “As we have changed our breeding policy we have had to buy in a lot of Mules, but we would like to produce our own and run a closed flock to avoid any disease implications.’’

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Investing in quality rams is helping one Shropshire farming partnership earn a premium price for prime lambs throughout the selling season. John & Philip Bradshaw Whitchurch Shropshire

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hile some commercial producers may shy away from dearer rams for Whitchurch-based John Bradshaw and his brother Philip investing in top quality Texels sires is paying dividends. “Buying better rams is common sense for us. There’s no doubting that buying better rams is helping us breed better prime lambs and the better rams also tend to last longer, helping increase the return on investment too.

to a good start.”

“We don’t go daft, but we’re willing to pay up to 900gns for a decent shearling ram if it’s the type we want and from a breeder we’ve had rams from before,” explains John Bradshaw. It is this relationship with local breeders which the Bradshaws feel is essential to their success. “We’ve got to know the local Texel breeders and know which of them are breeding the type of sheep that suits our system. We now regularly buy from the same breeders at the Shropshire and Borders Club Sale at Shrewsbury market.”

“That said, obviously creep feeding does add a cost, but it means we get a large number of lambs away before the usual summer dip in prices. By the third week in July we’d sold just under 1100 lambs to average £90 after all deductions. That couldn’t be done on a farm this size without creep feed and the investment is more than rewarded by having lambs away early.

Running 1100 ewes on 180 acres of grass the Bradshaws are focussed on maximising output and earning premium prices for their lambs. “With a limited acreage we need to ensure every lamb we sell is of as higher value as possible.

With a good start essential for the Bradshaws ewe feeding is closely monitored, with ewes going out to keep on local dairy farms for the winter before returning home to be housed.

The great thing is that the Texel crosses don’t take a lot of feed to get great flesh on and are always well sought after.” “To help with this we try to have lambs fit for the market early in the season before the trade dips too much.” The 1100 ewes are lambed in three batches, with the first 350 ewes lambed in mid-January and the last ewes lambed by the end of March. “There’s only myself, Philip and our nephew Harry, so we stagger lambing out of ensure we have the time to do the job properly. We generally leave a week between batches to take the pressure off and this means we can get all the ewes and lambs off

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Once ewes and lambs get out to grass creep feed is introduced to help push lambs forward and the first lambs are usually fit to draw in the first week of May at about 41kg liveweight. “We mix a standard creep feed pellet with barley on a 50:50 basis and it works well and helps reduce the costs.”

“This also means we free up grass for ewes to get back in decent condition ahead of tupping again in August.”

Once housed maize silage is mixed with grass silage to form the basis of the feed. “This is fed along a feed barrier, with concentrates then fed in troughs. Feeding maize silage helps keep the energy levels up, reducing the risk of twin lamb disease and boosting colostrum quality. “We have thought about feeding concentrates in with the silage too, but trough feeding allows us to keep a close eye on which ewes aren’t feeding and tackle any issue quickly, although only twin and triplet bearing ewes are fed concentrates, with singles able to manage on silage alone.” When it comes to maximising lamb growth the Bradshaws are conscious of the need to keep lambs healthy and avoid any growth checks, adding Decox to ewe feed in the run up to lambing and also to lamb creep in the early stages. “We simply

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can’t afford for lambs to be checked by anything and while it’s another expense the benefits more than outweigh the costs. Adding it to the ewe feed helps reduce the burden to start with and once lambs start taking creep they are well protected too,” explains Philip Bradshaw. “We also vaccinate ewes against abortion having had problems historically, vaccinating all replacements when they arrive on the farm. These replacements are then kept as a separate group through tupping and are lambed as part of the second batch.” When it comes to lamb health the brothers keep on top of worm burdens with regular drenching which helps ensure all lambs are sold by the end of September. “We sell both liveweight and deadweight, tending to go liveweight early in the season and then switching to deadweight later according to demand,” he explains. “This year in particular we’ve sent a good number deadweight as there were plenty of lambs coming forward in the local markets. Also as we come to the tail end of our older lambs their coats came become a bit slack, meaning buyers are less keen on them, despite them still being good lambs underneath. Selling deadweight means this is overcome.”

And with lambs grading as largely U and R grades it’s a decision which has been well rewarded, with the brothers aiming to achieve a 21kg carcass. “We try not to go any heavier than that as this is what the market is looking for and adding weight unnecessarily only increases costs for no extra return.”

“We feel the system we’ve got works well for us and fits the farm’s resources. Without a doubt the Texel sires are helping add value to our lambs, by adding extra conformation without compromising on growth rates,” adds John Bradshaw. Ewes scan at between 190 and 200%, with no pre-tupping flushing undertaken as ewes are naturally prolific. “We try to keep the number of triplets down if possible and flushing would increase triplet numbers, leaving us with a high number of smaller lambs which wouldn’t suit our system. We aim to sell at 175%-180% which is easily achievable provided lambs don’t suffer any setbacks or major health challenges.”

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Crossbred Texel Ewes lifting output in Welsh hill flock to maximise lamb carcass values. Berwyn & Aled Hughes - Ystrad Fawr

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erwyn Hughes and his nephew, Aled, run a flock of 300 Texel cross and Mule ewes and 600 Welsh ewes at Ystrad Fawr, near Corwen, Denbighshire. Texel cross numbers have been increased for several reasons, primarily because the lambs attract a higher sale price. “There can be a difference of £15 a lamb between the Texel and the Welsh lambs,’’ said Aled. In mid-August the Hughes’ sold 40kg lambs from both flocks at Ruthin livestock market and received £10 a head more for the Texel lambs. “These lambs have better back ends, a better killing out percentage. That’s what the buyers are looking for,’’ Berwyn explained.

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“A lot of farmers lamb their ewes and just take what the market will pay, but that is my wage so if the market demands a certain type of lamb we must try to produce those better.’’ Farming 700 acres of land that rises from 700 feet to 1500 limits the number of crossbreds he can keep. “We would love to produce more, but unfortunately we have to farm within the constraints of our climate,’’ he conceded.

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“If we had more grass and more housing we would lamb more ewes indoors earlier. The Welsh ewe is a hardy breed; it has its place on rough mountain land. The Texel wouldn’t thrive on that type of land and neither does it like the company of other sheep. Most crossbreds like a lot of space.’’ The Texel was first used on the flock 15 years ago and numbers have gradually been increased.

“We keep going back to the Texel, we are using more now than we ever have. We changed to Suffolk three years ago to see if we could get more weight, but the Texel lambs always look better and buyers seem to want them more than Suffolks.’’

to lamb indoors in February, ahead of the rest of the flock which lamb outside in March and April. The crossbreds scanned at 180% and the Welsh ewes at 145%.

They are not alone. The results from the 2013 sheep breed survey confirmed an increase in crossbred ewes and a rise in the Texel as a terminal sire and as part of a crossbred ewe, at the expense of the Suffolk.

Sponging is a policy that pays. This year 35kg lambs were sold for £116. “I don’t think we have ever had that for lambs before, all the lambs made over £100. We have got to aim for those prices,’’ said Berwyn.

For Berwyn and Aled, the reason why is apparent from the moment the lamb is born. “The Texel lambs are on their feet straight away, they are lively when they are born,’’ said Berwyn. “That is important for us because if we are lambing outside and a lamb doesn’t suckle in the first 20 minutes they are not a prime candidate to hear the cuckoo.’’ Six Texel tups are sourced each year, from the Texel Sheep Society sales at Ruthin. “We are very lucky in north Wales, there are a lot of good Texel breeders. We look for good length, good wool and a good back end. When we breed ewes to a Texel tup we have got to try to get milkiness into that animal,’’ said Aled. He aims to pay between £400-£700 a head. “There is no point in paying less than this and regretting it on the day we sell our lambs.’’ Ewes are grazed hard on the mountain until three weeks prior to tupping; they are flushed hard on the lower land. Fifty crossbreds are sponged

These lambs are fed creep to catch the early market before the middle of June.

Berwyn reckoned lamb producers needed an alarm bell to sound at the beginning of May to push the lambs harder to get them fattened and sold. “At the end of June the prices always start to fall. I don’t know what we as farmers don’t take more notice. Perhaps we are a bit old fashioned and do things in a certain way because that is the way our predecessors did it.’’ Lambs are sold liveweight at Ruthin and Bala livestock markets and also through Farmers Marts auctions at Dolgellau and Machynlleth. Berwyn has been a director of Farmers Marts since 1954 and is a firm advocate of the live market system. “We have dabbled with selling on the hook, but it’s not for us. If we are not happy with the price we are offered in the market we can bring the lambs home although the six-day movement standstill rule is a nuisance at times. “If abattoirs wanted to shut all the markets they could easily have done that in 2001 by having the foresight to pay a decent price for lamb.’’ Although his flock escaped foot-and-mouth, the 2013 blizzards claimed the lives of 70 pregnant ewes. This was a blow but Berwyn and Aled both believe in looking forward rather than reflecting on the past.

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“It is important to look ahead and not be too stubborn to change,’’ said Berwyn. “My hair may have changed colour but I am still able to have an open mind and change when needed rather than believing that our way is the only way. We go to events and places to get new ideas and we talk about things. Aled has brought new ideas to the business.’’ Sadly, Aled’s father Hywel – Berwyn’s brother – died when he was just 54, but some of his ideas live on. In an attempt to counter lameness, Hywel believed in culling problem ewes. “He was a firm believer that bad feet was genetic, so he tagged all the problem ewes one year and they were culled. After we got rid of those lame ewes we didn’t have any problems for a while after that. We won’t keep rams that are continually lame.’’

does it pays off. Exports are important to our business, but it is indicative of the way farming is at the mercy of government and exchange rates that we might discuss ways of moving forward that will work next year, but perhaps won’t in two or three years time.’’ What gives Berwyn and Aled the greatest satisfaction is producing top quality sheep and cattle.

“When someone comes onto our farm and sees our sheep or cattle we want to be proud of them and that is why we put so much into the breeding,’’ said Berwyn.

The sheep are run through a footbath every time they are handled. They are also blood tested every two years to monitor their metabolic status. A copper supplementation is given because the farm has a high molybdenum level. Ewes are culled at six or seven years. The Hughes’ also run a suckler cow enterprise, calving in the spring and the autumn. Pedigree Medrad Limousins are crossed with Belgian Blues with a view to producing calves with show potential. The aim is to produce an animal with an enhanced value. “We try to get a niche product that people will pay a teeny bit more for,’’ said Berwyn. “We are like gamblers at the races on a Saturday afternoon. It might not work all of the time, but when it

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Don’t just take our word for it! Visit one of our Sales National Sale dates 21st-22nd August Northern Ireland National BALLYMENA

26th-27th August Scottish National LANARK

29th August Welsh National WELSHPOOL

31st August-1st Sept English National WORCESTER

Club Sales dates 3 August BUILTH WELLS NSA Early Ram Sale Clee, Tompkinson & Francis Tel: 01874 622 488 15 August CHELFORD Frank Marshall Tel: 01625 861 122 15 August GAERWEN Morgan & Evans Tel: 01248 723 303 19 August EXETER LIVESTOCK MARKET Kivells Tel: 01392 251 261 3 - 4 September CARLISLE Harrison & Hetherington Tel: 01228 406 230 5 September SHREWSBURY Shrewsbury Livestock Auctioneers Tel: 01743 462 620

7 September NWA Jct 36 Tel: 015395 662 00 10 September WILTON Southern Counties Tel: 01722 321 215

17 September LANRK Lawrie & Symington Tel: 01555 662 281

24 September CLITHEROE Lawrie & Symington Tel: 01555 662 281

11 December CARLISLE Harrison & Hetherington Tel: 01228 406 230

17 - 18 September SKIPTON Craven Cattle Mart Tel: 01756 792 375

26 September CARLISLE Harrison & Hetherington Tel: 01228 06 230 1 October WELSHPOOL Welshpool Livestock Sales Tel: 01938 553438

12 December SKIPTON Craven Cattle Mart Tel: 01756 792 375

11 September RUTHIN (DUTCH) Ruthin Farmers Auction Company Tel: 01824 702025

19 September WORCESTER McCartneys Tel: 01905 769 770

11 September ASHFORD Hobbs Parker Tel: 01233 502222

19 September BAKEWELL Bagshaws Tel: 01629 812 777

11 September KELSO For more details Tel: 01573 224 188

21 September BUILTH WELLS Main NSA Ram Sale Clee, Tompkinson & Francis Tel: 01874 622 488

13 September LLANDOVERY Clee, Tompkinson & Francis Tel: 01874 622 488 13 - 14 September RUTHIN Ruthin Farmers Auction Tel: 01824 702 025

22 September THAINSTONE Aberdeen & Northern Mart Tel: 01467 623 710

19 October WELSHPOOL Welshpool Livestock Sales Tel: 01938 553 438

17 December WELSHPOOL Welshpool Livestock Sales Tel: 01938 553 438 18 December LLANDOVERY Clee, Tompkinson & Francis Tel: 01874 622 488

30 November THAINSTONE Aberdeen & Northern Mart Tel: 01467 623 710

9th January 2015 CHELFORD Frank Marshall Tel: 01625 861 122

3 December FFAIRFACH Ffairach Livestock Mart Tel: 01267 236 268

9th January 2015 LANARK Lawrie & Symington Tel: 01555 662 281

5 December WORCESTER McCartneys Tel: 01905 769770

Northern Ireland Club Sales

5 September RUAS BALMORAL Richard Beattie’s Livestock Sales Tel: 028 8164 7105 10 September ARMOY D McAllister Tel: 028 2177 1227

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11 September ENNISKILLEN Ulster Farmers Mart Tel: 028 6632 2218 11 September SWATRAGH Sperrin & Bann Valley Mart Tel: 029 7940 1335 16 September BALLYMENA Co Antrim J A McClelland Tel: 028 2563 3470

17 September LISAHALLY Richard Beattie’s Livestock Sales Tel: 028 8164 7105 18 September HILLTOWN Hilltown Mart Tel: 028 4063 0287 23 September MARKETHILL Markethill Livestock Tel: 028 3755 1265

24 September CLOGHER Clogher Mart Tel: 028 8164 7105 2 October GORTIN Richard Beattie’s Livestock Sales Tel: 028 8164 7105 12 October (Harvest Sale) BALLYMENA J A McClelland Tel: 028 2563 3470

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7 December Ballymena In-Lamb J A McClelland Tel: 028 2563 3470

“ dates correct as of 09/04/15

31 August RATHFRILAND Rathfriland Farmers Cooperative Tel: 028 4063 8493

Texel Primestock Magazine Spring 2015  

Texel Primestock Magazine Spring 2015

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