Keen competition for Beltex dispels doubts
By Jeremy Hunt
ANY doubts that the conformation of Beltex sheep is too extreme to have mass appeal among commercial lamb producers were swept aside at the Breed Societys show and sale at Carlisle last week.
With 436 head catalogued, this was the breeds largest UK sale so far. Competition was keen throughout the day with shearling rams averaging £620 and ram lambs levelling at £454.
Although the breed prides itself on conformation and muscling, size remains an issue. Quality ram lambs lacking size were received more cautiously by the ringside on a day when shearlings attracted the highest bids.
Leading Somerset breeder Robin Slade, renowned for his Smithfield prime lamb successes with Belgian-style Texels, judged the show classes and stood by his conviction that size is not critical in producing high-value lamb carcasses.
"Bigger, longer sheep dont have the fleshing. Breeders must not undermine the outstanding carcass qualities of the Beltex by squaring their shape and altering their appearance to produce a British version of the breed," said Mr Slade.
After a meticulous judging session involving huge classes, he awarded the supreme championship to Co Antrim breeders John Currie and Sons with their ram lamb Tullygarley Victor.
The Currie family was making its first trip to Carlisle with Beltex sheep. They run just six ewes alongside other pedigree sheep flocks, and bred their champion from a hogget selected in Belgium last year by neighbours T J Carson and Sons.
The champion made 900gns to David and Andrew Bishop for their Luggsmill flock at Malvern.
Scottish breeder Ian McMillan, Newton Stewart, fared well in the show classes with some powerful sheep from his Clary flock and made the top price of 2500gns for a shearling ram that stood second in a hotly-contested class. Buyer was J T Yates, Derby. Another from the same pen stood third and sold to Davies Bros, Llangadog, Dyfed, for 1550gns.
Local buyer Stewart Bell made a shrewd purchase to take the 1994-bred imported ram that stood reserve male champion at this years Royal Highland Show. It was consigned by John McIlwraith, Ayr, and made 2000gns.
The Bishop partnership also invested 2000gns in an imported shearling ram from Alan Thom, Kilwinning, Ayrshire, and went on to win the female championship with a ewe lamb that has been successful on the summer show circuit.
T Allan, Biggar, paid 750gns for the Bishops champion and made further substantial investments in the breed, giving 800gns for a shearling ewe from the Clary consignment and emerging as leading bidder at 1150gns and 1600gns for stock from McIlwraith familys Balig and Dunure flock reductions.
Top female bid came from I Maxwell, Co Donegal, who gave 1050gns for a ewe lamb from Tom and Marion Reeds Challenger flock at Sebergham, Cumbria.
AVERAGES: seven aged rams £604; 107 shearling rams £620; 79 ram lambs £454; 16 ewes £280; 31 shearling ewes £388; and 19 ewe lambs £321. (Harrison and Hetherington.)n
Beltex ram lamb Tullygarley Victor stood supreme champion.