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‘I got my first ewe when I was 11, and slowly built up numbers’

Texels: Gillian Earle 

In this week’s sheep farming Segment, That’s Farming speaks to Gillian Earle from Cullentra Texels. We discuss balancing her studies alongside her pedigree Border Leicester and Texel flock, dealing with challenging input costs, and advice and tips for aspiring pedigree breeders.

Farming runs deep in the veins of Gillian Earle, who hails from a 300-strong breeding ewe farm across 80-acres in Co Wexford.

In addition to this, the 19-year-old established a flock of her own, comprising 21 pedigree Border Leicesters and Texels.

The sixth-generation farmer works alongside both her parents and her brother on the enterprise.

Gillian is one of six children, of whom all are interested in farming. Despite this, her father has provided her with her own section of the farm to graze.

“My earliest childhood memory were feeding pet lambs and helping my father during the lambing,” Gillian explains to That’s Farming.

“My father gave me 4-acres of the farm to graze with my own sheep for the last two years.”

“I started with breeding pedigree Border Leicesters. I got my first ewe when I was 11, and slowly built up my numbers to 14 pedigree ewes,” Gillian explains to That’s Farming.

Pedigree Texels

Moreover, Gillian has also dedicated some of her time to producing quality pedigree Texels, alongside her current flock of pedigree Border Leicesters.

“I have recently ventured into breeding pedigree Texels. This has been my first year lambing them.”

“I currently have seven pedigree ewes which have lambed this year. Overall, I find it very enjoyable, and I take great pride in my own pedigree ewes.”

“I enjoy producing top quality lambs, all of which are doing exceptionally well on grass.”

When asked why Gillian invested in the Texel breed, she was very certain of her answer.

“I chose the Texel breed because of their style. They are good mothers, have a lot of milk and produce good carcass grading lambs.”

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Lambing season

With lambing season over for the pedigree sheep breeder, Gillian lambed a total of 21 pedigree ewes this spring.

“In total, I lambed 21 ewes this year. The Texels were lambed in early February, meanwhile, the Border Leicesters were lambed in March. All sheep were lambed indoors, and were then turned out to grass when the weather picked up.”

Young trained farmer

Gillian plans to qualify as a young trained farmer and like many young farmers working alongside the family farm, further education opens up many other doors.

“I am currently in my first year of college studying a BSc in Agriculture in Waterford Institute of Technology and Kildalton Agricultural College.”

“I am really enjoying studying this course. We learn a lot of technical and practical skills, which I can then apply to my farm at home.”

“Next year, I am looking forward to going on work placement on a farm to learn other techniques.”

Furthermore, Gillian recommends this course to any young farmers who have a passion for agriculture.

While Gillian is busy managing college life in addition to her farming career, her father is responsible for the running of her pedigree flock while she attends college.

The Border Leicester Society and Irish Texel Society member encourages other sheep breeders to get involved in these societies.

“I think it is good to be a part of these societies as you get to meet new people from all over the country, and with the same passion for sheep.”

Overcoming challenges for success

Like many other farmers, Gillian shares the struggle of a similar financial challenge this year.

“With many farming supplies rising in cost, it has been a struggle to pay for fertiliser in addition to other fencing equipment.”

Other costs which occur on Gillian’s pedigree sheep flock are savings for “top-quality genetics”.

The young farmer is “most passionate about a grass-based sheep production system because of its low cost, in addition to sustainability for the environment”.

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Successful breeder

Being a successful pedigree sheep breeder is time-consuming, financially straining, and physically challenging, as she explained.

But it is her belief that to be a successful pedigree sheep farmer, you need to be hardworking and pay attention to the detail of the care you give for livestock.

In her view, you also need to have the ability to make logical management decisions and have a bit of patience.

“I would advise young, aspiring sheep farmers who would like to enter the industry to start small. Develop your skills and knowledge from working with sheep. This will help you along the way to caring for larger numbers of sheep as your flock expands.”

Gillian’s three to five-year plan certainly entails the expansion of her flock, in addition to her grazing area.

“My future plan involves increasing my grazing area up to 10-acres and increase my ewes up to 50-strong.”

The 19-year-old also believes in utilising valuable genetics for the pedigree sheep market.

“With my flock of pedigree Texels, I would like to introduce new bloodlines with top star values with maternal and terminal traits from the Sheep Ireland database.”

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A viable business

The cost of farming has risen dramatically in the last 12-months. Regardless, Gillian believes that sheep farming can be a viable business.

“You must manage ewes well and produce a good litter size from 1.8 to 2.0 per ewe. You should also aim to obtain a high proportion of live weight gain from the grass; this is another technique to keep the cost of production low.”

“The current rate of inflation and the cost of inputs is concerning for the outlook of Irish agriculture. The price of sheep has not increased in line with the increased input costs.”

Despite the rising costs, Gillian is also a keen environmental enthusiast and farms with this ambition in mind.

Gillian concludes, “the biggest challenge is trying to balance production versus environmental aspects such as water quality and biodiversity”.

“I try to manage these environmental factors and attempt to make sheep farming profitable.”

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