In this week’s sheep segment, That’s Farming talks to Robert Walker, pedigree Texel and Suffolk breeder based in Co. Limerick. We discuss building his flock from scratch, his breeding enterprise’s successes and lows, and future prospects for the breeder.
Robert Walker, a Limerick native, is a third-generation farmer on his family farm, which his grandfather purchased.
Initially, a dairy and calf-rearing enterprise, Robert’s father entered the Suffolk breeding scene in 1990. Following this, Robert, alongside his brother, James, established a flock of pedigree Texels.
Reminiscing on years gone by, Robert recalls his earliest farming memories, “I will always remember lambing my first ewe.”
“As a baby, my mother and father would bring me to the lambing shed, and I would sit in the hayracks.”
“I suppose I grew up in the midst of it. That is where my interest sparked, I suppose,” he tells That’s Farming.
A busy life
The pedigree sheep farmer balances a busy life on a mixed enterprise in Croom. In addition to managing the pedigree flock, Robert works as an AI Technician with Munster Bovine during the earlier months of the year. This followed on from his studies of genetics in UCC, where afterwards he completed his Green Cert.
The farm is managed as a family farm, with both of Robert’s parents, himself and his brother, James, who works as a vet in Abbeyfield.
Kilcurley Flock comprises both breeds, Suffolks and Texels, and the farm is run with two separate enterprises, which function on two separate blocks.
The dairy enterprise is composed of 160-strong cattle, and the pedigree flocks comprises110 Suffolks, as well as 70 Texels.
The farm-based around their home consists mainly of dairy, whereby the sheep enterprises function on an out-farm.
“The Suffolks have been here since my father established his initial flock. I believe the breed has improved a lot in the last number of years. Their ideal traits to me are their fast-growing characteristics, as well as the improvement in the vigour at birth.”
“Moreover, the Texel breed has always been vigorous at birth. They are a very clean breed and thrive well from birth.”
“The Texels were introduced by sourcing a couple of ewes from reputable breeders. We are always on the lookout for better ewes, and we plan to buy one or two every year. By introducing new bloodlines, we are welcoming more returning customers.”
“For the Texels, we aim to buy a ram as good as possible.”
Managing lambing season
With the Texel enterprise, Robert and James undertake some flushing with their highest quality ewes. Next year, they plan to introduce this breeding programme to the Suffolk flock.
“On average, our scanning rates are around 2.0 for the Suffolks and approximately 1.7 for the Texels.”
“The Suffolks lamb from the January 5th-10th. We aim to have the majority of the Suffolks finished lambing, and then we move on to lambing the Texels, which takes place from February 7th onwards.”
All lambing takes place indoors for Kilcurley Flock, and next year, the brothers plan to introduce cameras in the lambing shed.
Despite this, they arrange shifts for the lambing shed to ensure someone is on-hand at all times.
“With our Texel flock being 100% AI’d, it is an extremely compact period. We take turns with the lambing shifts, with someone being on hand at all times.”
After spending years building a reputable name within the Texel and Suffolk breeding circles, Robert attends premier sales around the country.
Moreover, he has built up a loyal customer base, which includes a number of returning customers.
“Our Suffolks are sold in marts around the country. We also have 50 half-bred ewes, which produce lambs for either butchers or factories.”
“We aim to sell our ram lambs around 85kg plus. We strive to produce a correct sheep, with both height and length.”
“Moreover, we focus on the commercial breeder mostly, with both size and power. We like a lamb that is able to move and hold itself well, with a bit more class. This also includes focusing on the essentials, such as legs, good topline and carcass quality.”
Highs and lows of pedigrees
The third-generation farmer has also been successful in the show ring. Having shown in both Clonmel Show this year, the Walker family won second place with a hogget ewe, which was sold for €6,500.
In addition, they have also previously won the overall male and supreme champion in Blessington, which has been a huge highlight for the breeder thus far. This ram lamb was then sold for €10,000.
“The most enjoyable aspect of farming for me stems from my love of the sheep. I enjoy seeing the progeny going on to well well for others.”
“In addition to this, it is nice to be able to work closely with your family, and it is great that we all have something in common.”
“Likewise, for many farmers this year, the price of everything is challenging. It is also hard to understand that not every lamb born will be a superstar.”
“However, it is important to remember when you hit a hard year, that there is always next year.”
“I find that the toughest time of the year is lambing and watching for losses. I manage this by organising help, and having everything right, ensuring anything that is sick is being minded. It is also essential that the ewes are minded properly, too.”
The future of Kilcurley Suffolks and Texels
Robert, who was invited to judge at the Texel premier sale this year, believes that sheep farming is like any other farming enterprise, and if it is run properly, it is a viable business.
I suggest to any new prospect breeders to build a flock slowly. Very few people become a top breeder overnight. Breed what you want to breed, and hopefully, one day, you will breed the right one.”
“We are always looking to change bloodlines and introduce a few nice ewes this year again if we can. We have also been invited to the All-Star Texel In-lamb sale in Blessington, where we will exhibit a few in-lamb hogget ewes.”
“We do not have any expansion plans. We would like to continue doing what we are doing and remain at our current production level.”
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