For Ballyclare-based farmer and butcher Ian Millar there is nothing to beat the Texel when it comes to providing the ideal carcass for his retail and catering butchery.
“We started our pedigree Texel flock in 1978 and have never been tempted by another breed since then. As a farmer the Texel offers everything I want, the lambs are vigorous at birth and grow quickly,” he explained.
“Meanwhile, as a butcher the Texel wins hands down too, with the breed’s ability to go to heavier weights without laying down excessive fat suiting the needs of our catering customers. These are largely local hotels looking for larger legs of lamb for use in carveries.”
Mr Millar says he doesn’t believe any other breed can offer the returns for farmers and butchers that the Texel can.“We can see it when we cut the carcasses in the butchers, the meat yield off a Texel carcass is far superior to anything else.
“Its all about carcass balance. The most valuable cut of lamb is the loin and the length and depth of loin the Texel can’t be beaten. When we cut a 21kg Texel carcass we know we’re going to get roughly 7kg of shoulder, 7kg of loin and 7kg of leg, other breeds may look better, but they lack the loin the Texel cross delivers,” he explains.
“Not that we deal with many carcasses at that weight, we’re generally looking for deadweights of 24.5kg and above to satisfy the needs of our customers for larger joints and sizable racks of lamb. We want that larger eye muscle coupled with a lean fat cover which the breed offers. We put through about 15 to 165 lamb carcasses a week and have to be precise about the quality of the carcass we handle.
“High prices have made lamb less popular now as a meat than it has historically been. As a result we have to ensure we deliver a high quality product to our customers to ensure they come back again. When lamb became more expensive four or five years ago we saw an immediate drop off in demand and it hasn’t yet returned.”
A useful sideline for the butcher’s shop is the production of lamb burgers from those cuts not required for retail or catering customers.“We first produced lamb burgers when we hosted a Texel open night many years ago and they were so popular we decided to offer them through the shop too,” adds Mr Millar
Running the 30-ewe Millcomb pedigree flock of Texels gives Mr Millar a valuable insight in to the breed and its direction. “There’s no doubt the breed has come on leaps and bounds since I first started with it, both growth rates and skins have improved and these are valuable traits for the commercial producer. Good tight skins without stripping mean lambs have a good cover at birth to allow them to thrive no matter what the weather, something the Texel excels at.”
Buyers have clearly been taken with the quality of the stock produced in the Millcomb flock, with pedigree breeders paying up to 4200gns in recent years for Millcomb Vindicator which sold at the Northern Irish National Sale, Ballymena, in 2014.
“We aim to breed quality commercial tups with the pedigree tups being a bonus. This year’s crop features some good lambs by our latest stock ram, Sportsmans Westminster, with a number of these destined for Ballymena and others for later sales.”
Looking ahead Mr Millar says he believes commercial producers will be hard pressed to find a breed better suited to prime lamb production in Northern Ireland, with the Texel’s conformation, carcass balance and ability to thrive off grass all central to its continued success.
The Northern Irish National Texel Sale takes place at Ballymena Mart on Tuesday 16 August and Wednesday 17 August for more information see www.texel.co.uk or contact Ballymena Mart on 028 2563 3470.