The flock name Springhill is synonymous with the highest standards of pedigree Texel and Charollais sheep breeding.
The Foster family – John, his wife Helga plus sons Graham and Robbie in tandem with daughter Alice – run a 320 strong ewe flock along with a 240-cow dairy herd near Ardstraw in North Co Tyrone.
“The Texel flock comprises 100 ewes,” John explained.
“All are crossed with pedigree Texel tips with 15 ewes flushed annually to produce embryos. In tandem with this we run a pedigree Charollais flock of 30 purebred ewes. Half of these are crossed with elite Charollais tips. The remainder are served on a 1:1 basis with Texel and Beltex rams. There is a growing demand within the lowland sheep sector for high quality crossbred Charollais tips with the capability of producing elite lambs having high levels of crossbred vigour.
“There are 190 crossbred ewes on the farm. A selection of these are used as recipient mothers for the embryos produced from our Texel sheep.”
The Foster dairy herd, which is calving the year round, is currently averaging 8,500 litres with good milk solids. The herd has a strong Holstein Friesian cross foundation.
“All high yielders are crossed with a British Friesian bull with the remainder of the herd served with a Pedigree Angus bull,” Graham Foster explained.
“All the Angus calves are registered for the current breed scheme. We source the sweeper bulls required from our own nucleus herd of pedigree Angus cattle. This means that we are as self-contained as we possibly can be, from a breeding point of view. All of the beef cattle born on the farm are reared through to the advance store stage.”
But it is the acclaimed standing of the family’s pedigree sheep breeding enterprise that really catches the eye. The Fosters won the UK Texel Champion Flock of the Year competition in 2014. This built on their Northern Ireland Flock of the year accolades, secured in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. And all of this quality has been reflected in the prices paid for Springhill breeding stock in the sale ring.
The Fosters secured top price of 5,600gns at the Ballymena National Texel Sale in Ballymena last year with their Shearling ram Springhill Uppercut. Their ram lamb, Springhill V-Tech made 4,500gns at the same event.
“Most of the Springhill stock is sold at our own male and female sales, which are held in Omagh mart during September and December respectively each year,” John commented.
“We have been breeding Texel sheep for 32 years. In truth my father was not that keen on sheep at all until we sampled a number of breed tips with our existing ewes at that time. The difference they made in terms of the quality lambs produced was truly remarkable. It was this experience that laid the foundations for the pedigree breeding enterprise that followed.”
The fundamental rule followed on the Foster farm is that of ensuring that every animal born – lamb and calf – gets the best possible start.
“Where the sheep are concerned this means ensuring that each lamb gets sufficient colostrum within minutes of birth,” Graham explained.
“We tube each single lamb with a half dose of Provita colostrum with each twin or triplet getting the recommended full dose level. We have followed this practice on the farm for many years. And it is an approach that works. Invariably, lambs are up and running around within minutes of receiving the warm colostrum. It is very straightforward to mix and it is easily offered to the newborns using a feeding tube.
“Where calves are concerned we normally offer them two Provita colostrum capsules at birth, again to ensure that they have the required disease immunity as soon after birth as possible.”
John Foster is quick to point out that ewes and cows will receive the Provita energy drink if they show any signs whatsoever of being under the weather at lambing or calving.
“It’s a fact of life that some ewes and cows will experience difficulties while giving birth. I am very watchful of cows carrying twins and commercial ewes used as recipients for pedigree Texels. It is very useful to have the energy drink on hand if they come under undue levels of stress. We also use the Provita Hoofsure footbath solution with the ewes.
“We find using Hoofsure Endurance on a regular basis is very effective in treating scald and for the prevention of foot rot. Comparing Hoofsure Endurance with some traditional methods that we have used we find a huge reduction in repeat cases. We also find that footbathing with the product is much easier on the sheep, particularly the young lambs as they do not inhale any toxic fumes.”
Provita’s Tommy Armstrong was a recent visitor to the Foster farm.
“The latest research has demonstrated that the health status of newborns within the first few hours of life can affect the performance of that animal for the rest of its life,” he explained.
“It is, therefore, essential that newborn calves and lambs get off to a good start. Provita products are helping the Fosters to achieve these targets. What is also very clear is that the family team apply a very high standard of management and hygiene.”
Tommy added: “The Springhill flock has been a tremendous success story for Northern Ireland. And I would like to wish John and his family every best wish for 2015.”
Up to 20% extra colostrum is available in larger tubs of Provita Lamb colostrum at participating merchant and veterinary outlets while stock lasts.
For more information call Tommy Armstrong on 07720101444.