Why Texel tups make common sense

Alwyn and Joanne McFarlane with their children John and Charlotte on the family farm near Dungiven. 1,500 ewes graze land stretching from the lowlands to the upper slopes of Benbradagh beside the Glenshane Pass.
Alwyn and Joanne McFarlane with their children John and Charlotte on the family farm near Dungiven. 1,500 ewes graze land stretching from the lowlands to the upper slopes of Benbradagh beside the Glenshane Pass.

When you run up to 1,500 ewes from the lush lowlands of Co Londonderry to the upper slopes of Benbradagh, 468m, beside the Glenshane Pass then Texel tups make common sense.

This is the view of Dungiven farmer Alwyn McFarlane: “We run about 600 Blackies on the hill, the 150 strong bred pure Benbradagh Flock and the rest put to Blue Leicester rams to primarily produce replacement mule ewes for our 900 strong lowland flock and for regular customers.

Typical homebred mule ewe and Texel sired twin lambs on the McFarlane farm.

Typical homebred mule ewe and Texel sired twin lambs on the McFarlane farm.

“In times past we put these Mules to Suffolk rams, a good enough sheep in its time, that sired lambs finishing at 24kg or 25kg. But what was the point? We are only paid on lambs to 21kg or at most 22kg by plants. By moving up to Texels some years back we have had much easier lambing, very much livelier lambs, a scanning percentage this past six years averaging 206% and far better grading lambs. Lambs that are away weeks quicker. A key point when prices are drifting down as the season goes on.

“Nowadays over a third of our lowland lambs going through the plant in Dungannon are U grade or better. Something that simply never happened before.”

Alwyn also noted that each year on the first Saturday in August the family sell over 200 Texel sired ewe lambs for breeding in Ballymena Mart. These typically making to £138 and mostly have not seen meal since leaving the shed.

“Using Texel tups is common sense given the numbers we are carrying and with no outside help other than a young lady for four weeks at lambing time. Easier lambing and lambs away at 14 weeks to the plant eases the workload and the cash flow.

“My father, Mervyn, though 72 does most of the tractor work and my wife Joanne, and mum, Fiona run their own retail on farm enterprise, McFarlane Animal Health, supplying a growing range of products to the rural community.

“Our third enterprise is a suckler herd of over a 100 Blue, black and red Limousin crossbred cows put back to a Limousin bull for their first three conceptions. After that they are run with a Charolais sire.

“Just this year we are trying a dozen Simmental bred suckler cows bought at the Alexander auction and have been really impressed so far.

“All calves from the suckler hard are sold as weanlings and with our children, John and Charlotte, only aged seven and three, plus dad a pensioner, any cow that shows signs of being a hard to handle safety risk is likewise quickly on the lorry.

“As with using Texel tups our aim is to reduce the stress and work levels. An example followed by my brother since moving to a 522 acre farm at Girvan in Ayrshire where Texel tups are proving an equally sensible choice.

“In our experience Texels are the premier terminal sire adding to income and reducing work load. Once again we will be buying Texel rams at the up coming breed sales that run from the end of August to early October.

“The key date for us being the Northern Irish National Texel Sale in Ballymena Mart on Wednesday, August 28. A chance to buy the cream of the breed that up grades your lamb crop.”

Praise indeed from a noted sheep judge at major local events and the much respected chair of Londonderry and Limavady Agricultural Show Society.

For details of Texel shows and sales browse www.texel.uk