Beltex crosses are the ideal lambs for finishing for the Christmas and New Year market, mainly off grass, say young Welsh breed enthusiasts Will and Rachel Gittoes.
|Beltex cross commercial lambs at Gwenfrwydd.
Will, 16, and Rachel, 14, have taken on the family farming partnership at Gwenffrwyd, Llandefaelog, near Brecon, with their mum Mary, and they are already notching up success in the highly competitive field of carcase lamb showing, winning the reserve lamb carcase title at this year's Royal Welsh Show.
Both are keen members of their local Llandefalle young farmers' club, competing at club, county and national level in a variety of contests including stock judging.
Encouraged by their grandfather John Matthews, the next generation are taking on the 260 acre farm which they are running alongside the 360-acres farmed by their parents Wayne and Mary at Bryndu 10 miles away.
Beltex rams were first used at Gwenffrwyd in 1998 on the commercial Texel cross ewe flock. Now the proportion of Beltex cross Texels in the 720 ewe flock is being increased in preference to the Welsh mules, half breds and Suffolks. A proportion of the ewes are threequarter Beltex.
“It was the carcase conformation which attracted us to the Beltex,” said Will, who has left school and this autumn will attend Holme Lacey agricultural college, near Hereford, one day a week while working on the family farm.
“We bought the Beltex rams to put on the commercial ewes and they clicked so well we were very pleased with the results.
“We have found the Beltex to be well-suited to finishing for the autumn lamb trade. While our show lambs are creep fed, the other lambs are finished off grass, however we usually keep 100 lambs for the end of January which receive some supplementary feed.
“We start selling the Beltex from mid July although we try to miss selling during the usual the dip in trade in August at weaning time. The Beltex can be sold from when they come off their mothers through even to 48 to 50kg as they can keep on growing frame.”
Proof of what the Beltex cross can achieve in terms of carcase quality was in their reserve champion carcase lamb in the live-dead contest at the Royal Welsh Show in reserve to top Malvern showman David Bishop as well as well as being the best bred in Wales.
The three-quarter Beltex had a carcase weight of 21kg and graded E3L and now the Gittoes want to try to capitalise on the quality lambs from their commercial flock by selling deadweight this autumn.
Prime lambs traditionally have been sold through Brecon Market where early Beltex-sired lambs were selling for up to 170p per kg in the summer of 2005. However, plans are for lambs to be sold deadweight in the autumn to meet premium carcase specifications.
The Gittoes won the 2004 Brecon Christmas primestock show with a pen of four Beltex cross lambs weighing 42kg a head and selling for £2 a kg - £80 a head.
The farm finishes 60 prime Limousin cross bullocks a year and the family sells them deadweight through St Meryn Meat's Merthyr Tydfil abattoir. They are bought through the market as13 month old stores and sold at 22 to 24 months old.
The Beltex sired commercial flock follows on lambing from the 40-ewe pedigree Texel flock in early March through to mid-April when there are only about 100 hoggs to lamb.
Some of the cross-bred lambs are sold off their mothers in mid-July and the rest are weaned at the end of the month.
The lambs are sold at 42 to 43kg liveweight, although they can be sold early as light at 32-33kg or up to 45kg, says William Gittoes.
All the lambs are finished off grass - only the show lambs receive some creep feed - with the exception of around 100 which receive supplementary feed before selling at the end of January.
Members of the Welsh Beltex club which was formed last autumn to promote the breed in the principality, the Gittoes have established their own pedigree Beltex flock, initially using the home-bred ram lambs on their commercial ewes with the aim of selling pedigrees in due course.
The Gweynffrwyd flock was started with eight bought ewes which were got in lamb by Llwynbrain Furbo, home bred stock ram for the Llwynbrain flock at Hay-on-Wye by Steve Gibbons, who has given the family plenty of help and encouragement in using Beltex.
Furbo was used again on the pedigrees for the 2005 lamb crop along with a shearling ram bought from Steve Gibbons at the Builth Wells NSA sale last autumn for 3,300gns. Furbo also sired the winning carcase lamb at the Royal Welsh.
The flock now numbers 33 females, including 11 yearlings, and the aim is to have about 40 breeding ewes with the emphasis on retaining the Beltex's compact double muscling carcase qualities.
This year they showed their first pedigree Beltex at the Royal Welsh Show and just missed out on the prizes in a huge class of 182 sheep - one of the largest at the event.
They have also showed successfully at the 250th Brecon Show this year with pedigree and commercial sheep - and Rachel took delight in winning the novelty class with a docile pedigree ram lamb dressed as a carnival girl!
Testament of the Beltex's breeding ability and fertility was that Furbo ran with 75 ewes last autumn and all but one were in lamb when they were scanned in December. These all lambed and 50 ewe lambs have been retained for the flock.
The ewes in lamb to the Beltex are easily lambed with few even of the three quarter and pedigree ewes needing any assistance with all members of the family taking their turn at lambing.
The small Beltex lambs are quick to get on their feet, unlike some bigger breeds of sheep.
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