Newcastle, Co Down based sheep farmers the McGinn family have developed a diverse flock of sheep which allows them to maximise productivity from a wide ranging type of land.
The family’s ground runs up to 3,000ft on the Mourne hills, with a large flock of Blackface ewes run on this hill ground.
Lower down on the in-bye ground a flock of Texel cross Blackface ewes is used to produce premium lambs from poor quality grass, while on the family’s lowland ground it is three quarter Texel and Rouge cross Texels which are the favoured breeds.
Seamus McGinn says the system has been developed over time to help achieve a balance of production and output, while at the same time helping spread the workload.
He said: “Texels have been central to achieving this system, with about 100 Blackface ewes put to Texel tups every year to breed replacement ewe lambs for the in-bye flock. We were involved with AFBI when they started doing trials on Texel crosses on upland farms and have stayed with the breed since then, finding the Texel cross Blackface ewes to be ideal for the in-bye ground.”
Mr McGinn says the quality of lamb these ewes produce when put back to a Texel ram is of a high standard and a number of the three quarter Texel ewe lambs are kept back for the lowland flock.
Texels have been central to achieving this system, with about 100 Blackface ewes put to Texel tups every year to breed replacement ewe lambs for the in-bye flock. We were involved with AFBI when they started doing trials on Texel crosses on upland farms and have stayed with the breed since then, finding the Texel cross Blackface ewes to be ideal for the in-bye ground.Seamus McGinn
“We find the Texel cross ewes on the in-bye ground lamb down at about 150% fairly consistently which is high enough for the quality of the ground they’re on. On the lower ground they’ll perform better than this, but we don’t want so many lambs on the marginal ground they run on.
“Producing quality lambs from this harder land helps maximise the productivity of it compared to running other types of ewes on it,” he adds.
Whether lambs from this in-bye flock are generally finished in the arly autumn, although he says there are years when they are better sold at store lambs rather than trying to finish them at home.
“We generally follow the trade fairly closely and don’t stick to a fixed regime. When lambs are better off sold as stores we’ll sell them. It’s often better that than finishing them ourselves.”
Having looked at other breeds on the higher ground Mr McGinn says the versatility and vigour of Texel cross lambs means he is reluctant to switch away from the breed.
“At birth Texel cross lambs are quick to their feet and are hardy and can thrive on any sort of ground. We find them highly adaptable and the demand for them as either store lambs, breeding lambs or finished lambs is second to none.
“We careful in the type of Texel we pick though, always looking for rams to suit our farm and our different flocks.”
He says for the in-bye flock it is essential rams have good skins and carriage, with a bit of character to breed good females too.
“For the lowland flock and to go back on the Texel cross ewes we look for a bit more carcass, but always maintaining a good tight skin and sharpness in the tups.”
Lambing in the lowland flocks takes place from mid-March onwards, with the upland and hill ewes then starting from the end of the first week of April.
“Lowland ewes are lambed inside, being housed from about the first of February onwards once we’ve finished all the purebred Blackface whether lambs.
“Hill and in-bye ewes are lambed outside, with all ewes outwintered too. The first lambs from the lowland flock start to be drawn from mid-July onwards, with the trade this year having been good throughout the summer.”
Mr McGinn finds the best selection of Texel ram lambs is at the Northern Irish National Sale which this year takes place at Ballymena Market on Wednesday 6th and Thursday 7th September.