WATCH: Texel Sheep Society kicks off 50th anniversary celebrations in NI at this year's Balmoral Show

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The “number one sheep breed in the UK” is celebrating its society’s 50th anniversary this year, with the Balmoral Show being one of the first events to kick off celebrations.

The British Texel Sheep Society started in 1974 and the current chairman, Jeff Aiken, is spending some time at the show alongside his family.

Jeff was born into a sheep farming family in Dromara, Co Down. Parents Jim and Cynthia Aiken are well known within the agricultural show and sale circuit, with Cynthia playing a role as a Ring Gate Stewart in the sheep section at this year’s event.

Jeff moved to England, where he has been working as a sheep stockman.

Dromara native Jeff Aiken. (Pic: Nathan Hylands)Dromara native Jeff Aiken. (Pic: Nathan Hylands)
Dromara native Jeff Aiken. (Pic: Nathan Hylands)

Coming to the Balmoral Show is a family affair for the Aikens.

“My wife and kids have their own flock”, Jeff explains. “They are big in to showing in a serious way.

“It is all about the young ones, showing the sheep and meeting new people. It’s also a good way to get out to the show and pick up new ideas along the way.”

One of the rules of the society means you are not allowed to dress the Texel breed of sheep by clipping or trimming the wool.

Texels pictured at Balmoral Show. (Pic: Nathan Hylands)Texels pictured at Balmoral Show. (Pic: Nathan Hylands)
Texels pictured at Balmoral Show. (Pic: Nathan Hylands)

Jeff thinks the idea “is so important for young ones starting off” in their showing career. “They know they don’t have to go into great detail in preparing the sheep,” he adds.

He believes it is an encouragement for the children wanting to show stating, “If you wash the legs, wash the sheep and get it coloured with dye, then your sheep is ready for the show ring.”

Jeff flew back to Northern Ireland for the first royal agricultural show across the UK.

“The show is a great way to start the celebrations for our 50th anniversary ‘back home’.

“It gets everybody out, all the breeders and their families.

The anniversary is “a great way to start the show season.”

The Dromara native was impressed with the display of Texel sheep on show in the rings: “After the spring season that we have had, it is an absolute credit to those who turned the sheep out. The sheep have appeared well grown and well fleshed.”

The Texel breed has developed the sheep meat industry in a “massive way”.

“The first imports came into Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, to focus on the commercial lamb. In the latter years the Texel hasn’t just been used to produce the butchers lamb, but it is also producing females and the commercial lamb as well.”

The female ewes can then be kept on within flocks for further breeding but there is now an increased focused on how attractive the breed is to look at.

“The main reason the breed was brought in was for its carcass, not worrying so much about characteristics,” the sheep enthusiast added.

“Over the years that side has changed.

Jeff feels it is important to not lose track of the carcass of the sheep, but when breeding animals for the show ring “it is also important to find them sheep with slightly more character.

“This would be seen in their heads and ears,” he says.

The chairman feels upbeat about the breed over the next 50 years due to its contribution to the meat industry ensuring consumers will have a lamb product that they are happy with.

“Currently the Texel breed is the number one sheep in the United Kingdom by quite a margin,” Jeff adds.

“As long as we continue to look after the commercial side, breeding sheep that can produce very good, fast growing quality lambs for the butcher shop, then the future is always going to be bright for the Texel’s.”