A Christmas 1996 gift of Texel ewes put Karen and Leslie Beacom of Ballywalter on the road to record breaking success as pedigree breeders reports Rodney Magowan.
“Ewes acquired to give our growing family an interest in livestock were the foundation stock of the Castleknowe Flock, which ten years later set a Northern Ireland breed record price of 30,000gns,” Leslie explained.
Best known as farm manager at Dunleath Estate, where a Holstein herd is the key enterprise, Leslie clearly enjoys the very different set of challenges faced as a pedigree sheep breeder.
Asked why one would opt for the Texel breed, Leslie recalled how successful the breed had been when used during his time at Greenmount College.
“Texel rams added value to every lamb produced from commercial ewes. Lambs born were lively and easy to manage with an impressive level of thrive due to the Texel breed’s good growth rates.
Now having purchased their own land the Beacom family are expanding the Castleknowe Pedigree Texel Flock and are also planning to produce commercial Rouge Texel crossbred ewes.
Management of such an enterprise has to be exact in order to maximise efficiency as simple steps along the way can mean huge savings in time and money. Thus vaccination programmes have been put place in consultation with their local veterinary clinic Jubilee Veterinary Centre. Both pedigree and commercial lambs alike are protected from pasteurella pneumonia and clostridial diseases such as pulpy kidney by vaccinating with Heptavac-P Plus.
“Losing a lamb, whether it is worth £60 or £6000, for the sake of not having a well planned animal health regime defies all farming logic so we have always vaccinated ewes in the weeks prior to lambing,” Leslie said.
“However, that vital immunity passed from ewe to lamb only gives protection for the first few weeks of life so we follow up with a lamb vaccination course in April. We ensure that every lamb receives two doses four to six weeks apart. “Our veterinary surgeons advised us that by delaying vaccination we risked losing lambs due to common and easily prevented diseases. It is a gamble we are not willing to take.”
With an impressive crop of 2012 lambs growing fast, Karen and Leslie are clearly looking forward to NI Texel Sheepbreeders’ Club sales from August onwards.
From their Blackstown and Springhill foundation ewes of Christmas 1996 onwards, the Beacoms have taken a special pride in having a flock based primarily on Northern Ireland Texel genetics. Their stock rams having originated from the Ballyhivistock, Springhill and Blackstown flocks.
The subsequent success of sheep they have sold is clealry a source of continuing satisfaction. For example, that 30,000gns record breaker Castleknowe Matchmaker proved an excellent investment for joint owners John and Linda Mellin with fellow Yorkshire breeders Drs Steven and Janet Symes.
Castleknowe Matchmaker was by Blackstown, a Geordie Kipper son and Tophill Joe grandson whose pedigree goes back to Knock Impulse and a Haddo ewe. Matchmaker’s dam was by Stonefieldhill Grand Champion
Leslie and Karen have remained extremely focused on breeding sheep with genetics that help make commercial lamb production more profitable. As Karen commented, “Unless pedigree breeders keep the focus on supplying rams that match the needs of commercial flock owners their breed will fade from the farming scene.”
Prior to Matchmaker’s sale at Dungannon, Castleknowe stock had been making up to 1,000gns. In the years since then, as the Castleknowe Flock has progressed, sale prices have risen. For example 5,600gns was paid the following year for a tup and Matchmaker’s sister made 3,600gns.
Managing an award winning diary unit, Leslie is aware of the role of artificial insemination and embryo transfer in improving a herd or flock forward. “In our early days we used AI to access some key rams in Scotland and currently use ET, but only on the very cream of our flock and only after selling lambs from them first.
“Flushing ewes for ET is only for the very best of stock, otherwise tremendous harm can be done to a breed by flooding the market with average stock. That harms everyone, pedigree breeder and finished lamb producer alike.” Leslie added.
Karen explained that lambs which are not up to the mark for breeding go for slaughter. This is another unwritten rule for the Castleknowe Flock that only those ram lambs offering genetic improvement head to pedigree sales.
With new stock ram Springhill Sixpack producing a very pleasing crop of lambs this year Leslie and Karen are clearly looking forward to further success in sale rings.
“We depend on a good return at the sales, so plan to keep on protecting future winners with Heptavac-P Plus by vaccinating ewes before lambing and lambs from three weeks onwards.”
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