Sheep focus: ‘I thought he was the best ram lamb I ever had’

Farming in Tara, Co. Meath, Pat Farrell and his son Barry run a flock of 60 pedigree Texel ewes. Their renowned Oberstown flock has been producing pedigree Texel sheep for almost 30 years.

In addition, there is a flock of 30 crossbred mule-type ewes and a herd of suckler cows on the farm.

“The flock will start lambing from the first week of February,” Pat explained when AgriLand visited the farm recently.

“All the pedigree ewes were artificially inseminated on September 9 of this year; then the rams go out after that for repeats,” he added.

“The ewes that hold to artificial insemination usually lamb within five days. We get about 65% of ewes holding to artificial insemination. This hold rate can vary from 40% to 80%,” Pat noted.

Gaining more from the best ewes

Pat explained that the mule ewes are used as recipients for pedigree Texel (donor) embryos. Six days after artificial insemination, the donors are flushed to recover the embryos. These are then transferred into the recipients.

Speaking about why he uses embryo transfer, Pat said: “We have been using embryo transfer for about 20 years on and off. It definitely helps improve the flock, as your gaining more from your best ewes.

“We flushed six ewes on the farm this year. We got great results from four of them and nothing out of the other two, but I didn’t mind that.

“In total, 59 embryos were flushed. We got 20 embryos out of one ewe, 19 out of the next, 13 out of another and seven out of the last ewe.

“The embryos were then transferred over to the mules. This year, there was a serious hold rate to embryo transfer. We put two embryos into each recipient ewe and they all nearly held – I had to pinch myself.

“We never had anything like that. It’s usually hit and miss; we done nothing different this year,” Pat noted.

Pat explained that some ewes are not always suitable to receive the embryo.

“We had three embryos and two recipient ewes left at the end of the day. But, one of the ewes wasn’t suitable, so we put three embryos into the that ewe and all embryos held.”

Breeding highlights

The Farrell’s sell a number of their ram lambs at the Irish Texel Society show and sale in Blessington, Co. Wicklow each year.

In 2013, Oberstown Usain Bolt was awarded the Overall Champion at the Premier Sale, selling for the top price on the day of €7,350. He was purchased by Paul O’Connor of the Drumgooland flock.

At the same sale, Oberstown Usain Bolt’s brother joined Peter Gibbons Macetown flock for €3,780.

Pat explained: “We had to christen the ram lambs that year with the letter U. So, when I was sending in the registrations, Usain Bolt came into my head; so I said I’d chance that name on him because I knew he was a good ram.

“There could be 130-140 ram lambs entered into the sale in Blessington each year. But, the minute Usain Bolt landed in the sales yard, there was people queuing up to get a look at him. The lamb hardly got any time to lie down.

“I never dreamed I’d win Blessington, but I thought he was the best ram lamb I ever had,” he added.

Oberstown Usain Bolt was awarded UK Sire of the Year in 2014. It was the first time in the history of the Irish Texel Sheep Society that the title was claimed by an Irish-born ram.

Speaking about Oberstown Usain Bolt, Pat said: “He had something extra, everything was right about him. He stood perfectly with his head up; you didn’t have to correct him. That ram lifted the profile of our flock a lot.

“Our ram was competing with the high-profile flocks in the UK. We went over to collect the cup that year; it was unreal to get it.”

In his first year as a service sire, Oberstown Usain Bolt produced sons that recorded the highest average prices at the UK Society’s National Sale.

Rams – sons of Oberstown Usain Bolt – sold across the UK during the 2014 sales season at an average price of £20,475 or €26,250. He even produced a ram that sold for an impressive £54,600 or €70,000 that year.

“There was serious demand for everything out of that line of breeding and it’s nice to still see the Irish breeding in flocks in the UK.

“His mother, we bought as a ewe lamb and every ram we used on her produced good ewes and rams. She produced a ewe lamb that was female champion at Blessington. It was the most successful line of breeding we ever had,” Pat explained.

“The breeders from Northern Ireland and Scotland are taking more interest in Irish produced sheep since Usain Bolt. A lamb sold at Blessington last year for €15,000 and it went up the north.”

Texel Twilight sale

The Farrell’s have eight hogget ewes from their Oberstown flock entered into this year’s Texel Twilight in-lamb ewe sale which takes place on December 29, at Station Road Mart, Cootehill, Co. Cavan.

“These hoggets are lambing from the first week of February 2019 and were artificially inseminated on September 9, 2018. They are scanned in lamb and – on average – have a scanning rate of almost 200%.”

Last year’s sale – hosted by the North East Texel Club – was an exceptional night for the Oberstown flock, as it produced the top three priced females of the sale.

In total, six females from Oberstown fetched the Farrell’s an average return of €1,650/head.

This year, some 60 in-lamb pedigree Texel females will be presented for sale on the day, with the first lot entering the ring at 1:00pm.

In-lamb ewes from: Clover Hill; Oberstown; Geordie; Glassdrummond; Ellinure; Grove; Macetown; Mullaghrafferty; Corry Hill and Macs; Navac; and Finn flocks will be on offer at the special sale.

Most of the lots entered are from flocks participating in Sheep Ireland’s LambPlus Scheme and have €uroStar values. This information will be made available to any potential buyer on the day.