Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.

110,000gns Texel Ram

When the ram lamb Newhill Major was born in February this year, Hexhamshire breeder Alan Walker spotted the sheep had a certain sparkle.

However, when Alan and his wife Vera took him to the Solway and Tyne Texel Breeder’s annual show and sale in Carlisle at the beginning of September they were overwhelmed by the interest in him – and even more so when at the Friday sale he was sold for 110,000gns, a third top price for the breed.

And what has made the success even more sweet is that the Walkers run only 15 ewes in their pedigree flock at the 40-acre Newbiggin Hill Farm, near Hexham.

“We knew we had a nice ram but we have never achieved prices anything like this – our top to date for a Texel ram was £700,” said Mr Walker, who also does some shepherding and lambing work away from the farm.

“When we got to Borderway Mart we put the ram into his pen and went off to get our gear so that we could spruce him up after his journey. When we came back we couldn’t get into the pen because of all the people looking at him – including top Texel breeders,” he said.

110,000gns Texel Ram
110,000gns Texel Ram

One breed stalwart commented that it was the best ram he had seen for a number of years. The lamb was a scrapie genotype group one ram.

After the initial interest there was talk that the ram would make “a bit of money” but as the luck of the draw would have it, their sole entry at the sale was the first lamb ram into the ring when the sale started at 9.30am - regarded as the worst place in the catalogue and Vera Walker admitted that plan B was to bring him home!

“However, our journey with him from the pen to the ring was pure theatre with people lining the alleyway and the ring was crammed with more people,” she said. “After he was sold I felt sorry for the next breeder into the ring.”

The first bid was at 20,000gns and within no time the price had spiralled to 110,000gns with the hammer finally falling to Northern Ireland breeder Malcolm Reid. Underbidder was John Forsyth for his Glenside flock in Ayrshire.

“It has taken a little bit of time to sink in. We feel very privileged that we have been able to breed a sheep like this. The response we have had from people all over the country with cards and messages has been amazing,” said Vera Walker.

The Walker family has farmed at Newbiggin Hill, originally on a larger acreage, for 70 years and Alan Walker has been breeding pedigree stock for a good many years.

Originally, he bred Suffolks, starting his flock in 1972 and such was his interest in the breed that he founded the Northumbria Suffolk Group at Hexham with Don Robertson.

By 1996 he had established the Newhill Texel flock, buying ewes from a dispersal sale in Hexham as well as Gordon Wilson’s Glenisla flock in the north of Scotland.

Running his flock of up to 30 Suffolks alongside the Texels, Alan Eventually felt that the Texel was the breed he wanted to continue with and the Suffolk flock was sold in 2001.

The Walkers’ Bluefaced Leicester flock which dated back to the 1960s was dispersed after foot and mouth and a ewe sold for £3,700 in Hexham – the couple’s top price until the memorable Texel sale.

A small number of store cattle are also kept.

Numbers of Texels have been built up to 15 ewes through selective breeding. For the number of ewes in the flock, buying an expensive stock ram could not be justified, so AI is used.

Alan Walker and his flock
Alan Walker and his flock

Newhill Major was by the AI ram Ettrick Jackpot by Crookholm Impresario, which was sold in Lanark for 36,000gns. His dam was a home-bred AI ewe by Broomknowes Inspiration from David Gilmour.

The Texel breed’s current record is 122,000gns paid in Lanark in 2003 for Tophill Joe with Loosebeare Imp only a few weeks later in Carlisle almost matching that at 120,000gns.

It was a combination of the ram lamb’s breeding and his conformation, style, presence and sparkle which caught the attention of Texel enthusiasts at the sale. The ram was not shown as Mr Walker decided he was too lively.

However, one stock ram which left his mark on the females was bought as a three shear ram five years ago from Angus McColm, of Crailloch, who had sold lambs at Lanark to 8,000gns and had bred good females.

The flock is now closed to female bloodlines. Some of Jackpot’s ewe lambs have been retained in the flock and other AI sires used successfully have been Glenside Drummajor and Douganhill Jeronimo, which made 48,000gns as a lamb at the Carlisle 2003 sale.

The current stock ram is Kirrin Loverboy which runs with the flock to cover any ewes which have not held to AI.

Lambing starts usually around February 10 and lasts for up to six days. Although the flock is small, the ewes get no preferential treatment.

“They are housed just before lambing. I like to keep them outside for as long as possible to give them plenty of exercise,” said Mr Walker.

“The ewes get no feed before lambing and they are turned out as soon as the weather allows. The farm is at 750ft above sea level and it is exposed to the winds and we have little shelter outside,” he said.

Despite this summer’s dry spell, the sheep at Newbiggin Hill have thrived – in fact Mr Walker says they do better than if it is wet.

Newhill Major had no preferential treatment even though his prospects had been spotted early on. The lambs are given a small amount of feed from July in the run-up to the sales.

Only one ram was entered for Carlisle as none of the others were felt to be ready, however at the subsequent Hexham sale another lamb, the Texel champion, which made £1,000.

Alan and Vera Walker, who have two married daughters Julie Famelton who lives near, Ridsdale, Hexham, and Kathryn Cowin, in Lanarkshire – neither of whom farm – plan to re-invest some of the proceeds of the ram sale into future breeding of their flock

“People have been asking us, but, no we aren’t going on a world cruise! After the sales are over we will have a few days away,” said Mr Walker.

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