SIMPLICITY and flexibility make Texels the terminal sire of choice for one Newtownards, County Down-based farming family.
Running 265 ewes across 160 acres alongside 60 finishing cattle, Alexander Ross and his wife Catherine and sons Daniel, Christopher and Stephen, aim to finish all their own lambs from the flock, which lambs at between 180 per cent and 190 per cent.
“We’ve been using Texels for as long as I’ve been farming and, despite having tried other breeds, there’s always been Texel tups on the farm and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
“They continue to perform for us, with lambs finishing quickly and easily and earning good prices whether sold as finished lambs or stores,” explains Alexander.
Lambing the first 120 or so ewes in early February, the family sends all ewes away for the winter, resting their own grass ready to turn ewes and lambs out to after lambing.
“The first ewes will come home to the polytunnel about a fortnight or three weeks ahead of lambing and are fed silage and concentrate, according to scanning results. Triplets will be fed 1.5kg/head/day, with twins fed 1kg/head/day and singles about 0.5kg/head/day.
“We then aim to get ewes and lambs out to grass as soon as we can after lambing and ewes are not fed once they go out to grass.”
Alexander says the aim is to start drawing the first lambs at the end of May, with creep feed offered to the early lambers from about a month old. “It’s always a tricky decision, but I always look at it as either feeding them early or feeding them later.
“I’d sooner feed them early and get them away. Feeding later usually means feeding more to achieve the same result.
“We want nearly all the lambs sold before we put the tups out again in September to ensure we have enough grass available to flush ewes on. The great thing is that Texel lambs respond rapidly to feed, so the benefit is seen quickly,” he adds.
With a flock made up of either Texel or Suffolk cross ewes, the family finds Texels add value and uniformity to their lambs, helping them hit specification when sold through the Strangford Down Lamb Marketing Group.
Lambs from the flock are targeted at a 21kg carcase weight, with nearly all lambs achieving U and R grades with a small number of E grades as well. “A few more E grades would be good, but I’m happy with the way our lambs perform and the aim is growth and easy finishing, which our lambs achieve.”
Replacement females for the flock are sourced from the first breeding sale at Ballymena each year, with flock health a priority for Alexander. “All replacements are vaccinated against abortion and also enter the Heptavac P+ system when purchased. It doesn’t matter whether they’re already on Heptavac P+ or not, we start them from scratch again so we can be sure they’re protected.
“At tupping all ewes receive a trace element bolus and are drenched, with a fluke treatment given in December and a further trace element bolus and Heptavac P+ booster given 4-5 weeks ahead of lambing.”
He says lambs then receive their first Heptavac P+ dose at three to four weeks old, with lambs receiving a nematodirus drench when they have their second Heptavac P+ and ewes having a worm drench at the same time.
“For me it is important to do everything we can to maximise lamb performance and health is a priority for that. Lambs are wormed as needed through the summer and also have a vitamin and mineral dose at weaning to help them through the stress of that,” he explains.
“Texel lambs deliver for us and respond well to the effort and inputs we make in managing them. Ultimately, you know that if you’ve got a Texel lamb there will be plenty of buyers for them,” says Alexander, who also works for a local dairy farm.
“Rams are bought as shearlings, mainly from the Northern Irish Premier Sale, Ballymena, with the aim being to buy tight skinned, long rams with a good bit of shape too. Those tight skinned rams are the ones we prefer. I find they throw lambs which generally weigh better than looser skinned tups.”
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