Beltex secures premiums for North East hill sheep farmers

Belgian Texels or Beltex as they are known, continue to grow in popularity as a terminal sire among North East upland farmers

Beltex cross lambs
Beltex cross lambs

Belgian Texels or Beltex as they are known, continue to grow in popularity as a terminal sire among North East upland farmers.

Farmers in the region have adapted their strategy by pushing outdoor lambing back to May to reduce input costs and take advantage of the later marketplace with premiums paid for top-quality finished lambs.

Robert Lee, who farms a 1,100-acre traditional organic grazing unit at Lumbylaw, Edlingham, near Alnwick, introduced Beltex 12 years ago as a terminal sire over 75% of his 850 Lleyn and Cheviot cross Lleyn ewes. He is finding that the cross suits his low-input strategy, while the rest of the flock is put back to the Lleyn or Cheviot to breed ewe replacements as a closed flock.

“Beltex fits my system perfectly; organic lamb must be sold deadweight and as there’s usually a bit of a wait to secure a slot at the slaughterhouse, finding a breed that doesn’t go stale once it has reached optimum weight is essential,” he said.

“The Beltex rams leave lambs that get fit and not fat, and consequently don’t encounter this problem,” he said.

“In a regular year, we target these lambs to finish at 18kg to 19kg deadweight and rarely less than an R grade. The first draft is ready to go at 12 weeks of age.

“However, we find it cost effective to retain 95% of the crop and grow them on over winter on hybrid rape and kale forage crops until February in order to secure the higher premiums that are available in the deadweight market. This year our marketing strategy shifted to the liveweight ring where the return on offer for 40kg to 42kg lambs was consistently higher than that for organic deadweight lambs, realising a 20% premium from returning buyers.”

Lee added that it’s important to farm a low-maintenance, low-cost flock since the unit’s main enterprise is a pedigree South Devon cattle herd, with 120 breeding cows plus followers.

“We have lambed outdoors from early May for the last 12 years, consistently scanning at 170% to 180% and making considerable cost savings on housing, feed and labour. Furthermore, we don’t encounter many problems with lambing outside – Beltex has proved to be very easy lambing over the Lleyn and Cheviot cross Lleyn ewes and their progeny is quick-footed; soon gaining the conformation and shapeliness that identifies the breed,” said Lee.

He added: “Looking ahead, I have no plans to change the Beltex’s role within the commercial flock and whether we sell liveweight or organic deadweight in the future will be responsive to the premiums that are on offer at the time.

“I certainly wouldn’t rule out either marketplace. I am confident that Beltex cross lambs will continue to command a premium through both outlets through a consistent demand from export buyers and at home for top-end, lean lambs with a high killing-out percentage and unrivalled conformation.”

Beltex has proved to be easy lambing over the Lleyn and Cheviot cross Lleyn ewes and their progeny is quick-footed

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