The Cambwell flock of pedigree Texels has seen huge improvements genetically in recent years thanks to careful recording and analysing of data, followed up by excellent management decisions and good husbandry.
Robert and Joyce Laird, who run the flock at Cambwell Farm, Biggar with the help of their two daughters, Amy and Kim, are delighted to have their hard work recognised by the industry. The family will be awarded the Quality Meat Scotland Johnston Carmichael Trophy for the Best Recorded Flock which will be presented at Scotsheep on June 1st.
The Lairds have around 400 acres of mostly LFA grassland where they run 60 suckler cows, 80 pedigree Texels and 240 commercial ewes. The Texel flock is one of the oldest in the UK with Robert's father, Tom, taking sheep from the very first importation in 1973, and they have been performance recording for 30 years.
"We use recorded Angus bulls on the suckler herd and sell the steers deadweight. I think you really see the value of performance recording from the carcases and can see the genetic improvements. I have adopted the same principle with the sheep and can easily see the benefits to the flock," said Mr Laird.
The Lairds are particularly keen on positive fat and muscle EBVs. "Growth is important too but I feel that performance recording can be too geared towards growth rates. I am mindful of keeping easy-fleshed, medium-sized sheep, which is what the commercial market wants."
Mr Laird is convinced there is a link between positive fat and longevity and has seen improvements in his flock in many areas such as growth, milk, fleshing ability and longevity. Indeed he has some ewes which are eight years old.
The Lairds have also paid great attention to detail in terms of the health of both flocks which are scrapie monitored and MV accredited. This, along with the performance recording, has opened up the world market to them and the first shipment of 10 Cambwell Texels were exported to Switzerland in 2014. Last year they sent 26 sheep to Holland, Switzerland and Italy and have benefitted from semen sales to Brazil, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Canada and the US.
Around 40 tup lambs and 20 shearlings are sold in Britain each year with their best price in 2003 being 50,000gns for Cambwell Jacobite. Last year the shearlings averaged £800 and the lambs £1000. They also sell surplus females as in-lamb gimmers and these have sold to a top of 16,000gns.
Some of the home-bred Texels are used on the commercial flock of Texel cross, Clun Forest cross and Belclare cross ewes, but this year he has also had some lambs born to a New Zealand Suffolk.
"The commercial flock has the same high health status as the pedigrees, so we have a good market for breeding females as recipient ewes. Therefore we select for growth and female traits as well as fast finishing," observed Mr Laird.
The wether lambs are sold through Lanark market or on the hook and are mostly U grades with some R at an average of 21kg deadweight.
The Cambwell flock's success is not confined to breeding and the sale ring. The Lairds have twice had reserve champion at the Royal Highland Show and been best performance recorded Texel seven times. They also won the Scottish Texel Club flock competition in 2015. The flock is also one of the first to be involved with the Texel genomics project which aims to identify genes resistant to foot rot and mastitis.
"When you see the genetic improvements the dairy, beef and pig industries have achieved over the years through recording, there is no reason for it not to work with sheep - it is the same science and mindset. I am delighted to receive this trophy from QMS which recognises the gains my flock has made thanks to recording."