Breeding Texel-cross ewes with the body capacity to cope with a heavy lamb crop and feeding accordingly is the key to making the most from the breed.
That's the policy underpinning Lancashire farmer Richard Morphet's flock of 550 Texel-cross ewes at Far Highfield, Aughton, near Lancaster - a flock that has just achieved a January scanning result of 202%.
This upland farm - which also carries 220 North of England Mules - runs Texel x Mules, Texel x Suffolk and Texel x Whitefaced Woodland. A batch of shearlings of the latter two crosses were bought last autumn to be evaluated. They were scanned separately and achieved 208% and 211%.
"These scanning results show what Texel-crosses are capable of - and they're lasting for five or six crops if you farm these bigger-types properly," says Mr Morphet.
An upgrading of the flock last year led to the purchase of 270 shearlings costing £140 from one farm - that was about £10-20 more than the cost of Mule shearlings.
"Texel-crosses are marginally more expensive than Mules, but it's a misconception they don't produce enough lambs and that Mules are better value because of a higher lambing percentage. In my experience, Texel-crosses can match the Mule on numbers of lambs produced - and three-quarter-bred prime lambs are earning a premium," he says.
Mr Morphet houses triplet-carrying ewes for about eight weeks prior to lambing in March, with ewes scanned for singles and twins housed closer to lambing time. However, when meeting the dietary needs of in-lamb Texel ewes, Mr Morphet says providing the Texel-cross ewe is of the right "type", she isn't difficult to manage.
"I've always aimed for bigger, rangier ewes with plenty of body capacity. In my experience it's this type of ewe that's less likely to put on too much condition compared with the smaller, thicker types of Texel-crosses.
"With a high lambing percentage I need a ewe I can feed properly without the risk of her putting on excess condition prior to lambing."
Triplet-carrying ewes - usually housed in late January - are fed 0.25kg of 18% concentrate a day with access to molasses and ad-lib haylage. The feed rate is gradually increased from 0.5kg and to a maximum of 0.75kg by lambing. Other ewes are fed a flat rate - 0.25kg for ewes carrying singles and 0.5kg for those carrying twins.
"I've had Texel-crosses for 14 years, and while conformation is important, provided you've got big ewes you can safely feed them without the risk of them blowing-up."Keeping ewes fit, not fat
And preventing Texel-crosses from becoming too fit at lambing is something ADAS sheep consultant Kate Phillips warns about. "While scanning results across many flocks look encouraging, there are risks of explosive prolapse if ewes get too fit."
Ms Phillips also advises those lambing Texel-crosses for the first time to be aware of the conformation differences between them and Mule ewes.
"Texel-crosses have a broader loin than a Mule and it's easy to put your hands on them and think they are carrying too much condition when in fact it's the shape of the ewe rather than extra fleshing. So don't over-feed, but equally don't underestimate ewe condition with Texel-crosses."
Case study: John Tilley, Cefn du Farm, Henllan, Denbigh
John Tilley runs 1000 Texel x Mule ewes on hill land running to 1100ft and reckons he gets an extra year's production from his ewes compared with Mules.
"We get five to six crops from them, we have less mastitis and because these ewes have teeth that are shorter and broader than many other commercial crosses, they keep their teeth longer," says Mr Tilley.
While he's aware Texel-crosses can quickly gain condition if allowed to, he still begins feeding at around eight weeks before lambing starts in early April - although most of the scanned ewes carrying singles will lamb without any concentrates.
"For ewes carrying twins and triplets, its kinder on the rumen to start feeding a flat rate earlier and spreading it over several weeks instead of pushing feed in during the last stages of pregnancy."
Ewes are put to Beltex x Texel sires and around 95% of the lamb crop comfortably reaches 40kg-plus off grass without creep feeding.
"But we've learnt that even though ewe lambs may look like they'd lamb as hoggs, that hasn't been the case for us. The pelvis is immature so my advice would be stick to shearlings if you're buying-in for the first time."
Aim for bigger ewes with ample body capacity
More than 200% lambing can be easily achieved
Ensure feed needs of bigger ewes carrying triplets are met
Texel-cross ewe preferred to three-quarter-cross