Sheep focus: Breeding pedigree Texels in the ‘commercial way’ in Co. Meath

Farming in Kildalkey, Co. Meath, John Canty is breeding pedigree Texel sheep with the commercial farmer in mind. Along with running a flock of 80 pedigree Texel ewes, he has a flock of 250 crossbred ewes and a herd of 90 suckler cows.

“We bought five pedigree Texel ewes in 1999 at the the Kells and Rockfield Flock dispersal sale to have rams for our own flock. At the time, we had 500 commercial ewes and it just went from there.

“Whatever we got for rams over the first 10 years went back into buying good rams.

Now we’d sell 50 rams – between lambs and hoggets – from the yard from our Cloverhill Flock. Some farmers, with big flocks, return every year to buy three or four rams.

“We pride ourselves on producing naturally-reared sheep that go on and deliver for our many repeat customers; our emphasis is on strong, commercially-reared sheep,” John explained when AgriLand visited his farm recently.

Breeding and ram sales

Over recent years, John has focused on €uro-Star ratings and is aiming to breed commercial rams that will go on to perform for other farmers.

This year, the pedigree ewes on the farm were mated using AI from John’s stock ram – Novac Wonderboy. This ram passed through the Central Progeny Testing (CPT) programme and is a son of Tophill Unionjack. Wonderboy is five stars across both the Terminal and Maternal indices.

The pedigree ewes will begin to lamb on February 5, while the commercial ewes will commence lambing on March 17.

Touching on his approach to selling rams, John said: “Commercial farmers want a ram to work and when rams are pumped with meal they fall asunder.

“Yes, people want to show rams, but they still have to be able to work for the farmer that buys them. If a farmer buys a ram and he melts, you can be guaranteed that he won’t return next year.”

Our pedigree flock is ran commercially. The only real differences are that AI is used instead of natural service and the pedigree ewes lamb indoors.

“We averaged €500 for hogget rams this year and €430 for ram lambs. Any lamb that is not fit for breeding is slaughtered, as a bad ram will still only make a bad hogget,” he said.

The average price received for ram lambs was boosted by a number of sales to other pedigree breeders this year.

Breeding highlights

Despite focusing on selling the majority of rams from the farm, John has experienced quite a good deal of success over the years.

In 2014, he sold Cloverhill Viceroy at the Blessington Premier for €2,100. In the same year, his flock was awarded second place for the large flock section in the National Flock Competition.

In 2015, the Cloverhill Flock was responsible for the firth place shearling ewe and fifth place shearling ram in the All-Ireland Competition.

In the following year, Cloverhill Yeti was awarded second prize in the Novice Ram Lamb Class at the 2016 National Texel Championships. Yeti was sold privately to Grove Texels and was awarded the Champion Ram Lamb title at the National Livestock Show in Tullamore.

Grove Texels also purchased a half share in John’s home-bred stock ram, Valant Esquire, who was awarded the Champion Senior Ram title at the National Livestock Show in Tullamore in 2016.

The commercial flock

Along with the pedigree enterprise, the Meath-based farmer also has a flock of 250 Suffolk cross ewes, which originally came from Scotch maternal bloodlines.

They’re a very hardy ewe and they cross well with the Texel. We’ve always mated these ewes to Texel tups and the resulting lambs kill out very well.

“All of the commercial ewes on the farm are lambed outdoors from mid-March, as we don’t have the space with the cows calving.

“We’ve an out farm in Collinstown, Co. Westmeath, and the ewes don’t come home until February. After lambing, they go back there.

“The ewes are kept around the home place for two months and after lambing – once the lambs are 10-14 days – they’re moved back to the out farm.

“We bring all of the commercial lambs to slaughter and we also buy 200-250 crossbred lambs to finish each year. We buy light lambs (28-30kg) and we graze them on grass and turnips until the end of March.”

By moving the ewes back to the farm in Co. Westmeath, John is able to close up some ground close to the yard for silage, which is vital for his herd of suckler cows.

Preparing for a sale

John is currently the chairman of the North East Texel Club and is preparing for its upcoming Cootehill Texel Twilight Sale in Cootehill Mart on Friday, December 29. The sale boosts an entry of 60 pedigree Texel shearling ewes from breeders in the north east region and all of the sheep on offer will be €uro-Star rated.

“We started the sale last year as an avenue to sell hogget ewes and we are trying to keep the quality up. From day one, we said we’d go specifically with hoggets and not with older ewes. We’re selling straight sheep and we’re not selling somebody else’s problems.”

This year, John has five hogget ewes entered into the sale and he hopes to top the average price of €770 he achieved last year. Last year, Pat and Barry Farrell – a father-and-son team – topped the sale at €2,130.

The top-priced ewe at last year’s sale

The suckler herd

On the suckler enterprise, John said: “We’ve 30 pedigree cows, which are Hereford and Angus, and they’d calve in the autumn to have bulls in the spring time for the dairy market.

“We’ve also a spring-calving herd of 60 Simmental and Limousin-cross cows that are mated to Hereford and Angus bulls to produce beef for Slaney Foods under its breed schemes.

“The steers are slaughtered at 24 months and are finished off grass,” he said.

Away from the farm

The Meath-based farmer aims to maximise the amount of time he spends with his young family. Married to Mairead, they’ve three young kids between the ages of three and eight.

You have to adjust to make time for family. I try to be home every evening at 5:30pm to spend a few hours with the kids before they go to bed.

“I try to keep Sunday for the family and I start the day at 6:00am to have the farm jobs completed to spend the day with them. The years fly by and we have to make the most of them while we can,” he said.