In this week’s sheep farming segment, That’s Farming, speaks to 17-year-old Blue Texel breeder Kevin Swift, from the Swift flock. He discusses running the farm with his brothers following his father’s passing, breeding sheep to a record-breaking €3,050, factory bonuses, and his desire to pursue a career in the sheep industry.
Kevin and his brothers, Kieran, and Peter Swift, from Ballymoe, County Galway, farm a 100-acre enterprise.
The farm comprises 100 ewes which they run commercially and ten Blue Texel sheep under the Swift prefix.
In 2018, their father, John, passed away following a short illness, and his sons now run the farm.
“I always had a keen interest in sheep around lambing time and helping out on the farm. I was always drawn to the farming way of life,” Kevin Swift, an Irish Blue Texel Sheep Society member, told That’s Farming.
“We started our Blue Texel flock by purchasing a ram, Johnstown Barrow, in 2017, from Francis and Jennifer Donohoe of the Co Westmeath Johnstown flock. We were amazed by the quality lambs they were able to produce.”
“In 2018, we decided to buy five foundation ewe lambs by Powerful 609 and Powerful Brutus from Phillip Crowe (Powerful Blue Texels) in Cavan.”
“We bought more ewes from Phillip’s flock and England, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. In addition, we have invested in different bloodlines to add variety to our flock.”
Blue Texel breeder
Kevin outlined why he chose the breed and traits he seeks in his Blue Texel sheep.
“Firstly, we find Blue Texel very easy lambing, excellent growth rates, kill-out rates, and grades. I would get a 21kg carcass from a 39kg lamb. We breed E and U-grade lambs from our commercial ewes using Blue Texel.”
“Furthermore, we send our lambs to KEPAK Athleague and are part of the QUALTEX scheme. Therefore, you can get a 30/c bonus for U-grade lambs and 35/c for E-grade lambs.”
“We try to breed a tight-skinned and well-muscled Blue Texel with length and style. The popularity has grown from farmers interested in the qualities Blue Texel sheep has to offer.”
“Farmers are very interested in their ease of lambing, that they throw 90% white lambs from cross-bred ewes, their kill-out percentages, and conformation.”
The Swifts lamb their pedigree sheep in February and commercial ewes lambing in April. Commercial lambs are all finished off grass.
“Lambing is a mixture of indoors and outdoors – weather dependant. Blue Texels are easy lambed, so we can lamb them outdoors, but if there is harsh weather, we bring them inside.”
Kevin explained why lambing takes place at different intervals for their commercial and pedigree flocks.
“We find February-born lambs need to be stronger for sales in August and for our rams to be able to sell on and work as ram lambs.”
“The pedigree sheep will be tipped on September 18th. We use sponges to compact the pedigree lambing season because of school and holidays. I find lambing time the most enjoyable part of farming. You can see the hard year of work pay off,” the Blue Texel breeder added.
Breeding programme and sales
The Swifts use AI on a small percentage of their flock, using sire Powerful Big Shot last year. They also run a Derg Einstein ram, which the family purchased privately from Allen Shortt.
The Swift family are in their second year breeding Blue Texel sheep and have noticed “more interest” in on-farm sales.
“There has been more interest this year, and the popularity of on-farm sales has grown.”
This year, the brothers attended their first Irish Blue Texel Sheep Society sale in Carrick-on-Shannon and exhibited two Blue Texel sheep entries.
“We got €3,050 for Swifts Fantasy which was the record price at an Irish Blue Texel Sheep Society premier show and sale. Then, we got €600 for Swifts Frankenstein, a March-born ram lamb.”
“There is another Irish Blue Texel Sheep Society premier show and sale of in-lamb ewes and ewe lambs in December. We plan to attend this sale with a ewe lamb.”
“Sale season would be a highlight of the year for me. I enjoy showing Blue Texel sheep, bringing them to shows, and meeting new breeders.”
“I would be most passionate about sheep farming because I find they are very easy to work with.”
“It is an enjoyable and quick year from once the ram is let out to when lambs are on the ground. There are different activities to be done daily with them. I also enjoy breeding them, their genetics, and improving on their quality.”
In Kevin’s view, weather is the most significant challenge for them working on wet land.
“Sheep farming has been challenging at times. However, it keeps you going once you see the quality lambs on the ground and being able to get rewards such as the recent sale of Swifts Fantasy to David Roberts in Shrewsbury.”
“It makes it all worthwhile seeing interest from top UK breeders in the sheep that I have bred.”
“To become a successful sheep farmer, it takes resilience and courage to invest in quality and new breeds that may not be as well-known but have characteristics that you want.”
“I am happy with how my journey has turned out. So, I hope to keep it going the way it is going.”
“My highlight so far would be setting a record of €3,050 with Swifts Fantasy in Carrick-on-Shannon at an Irish Blue Texel Sheep Society sale.”
Kevin and his brothers plan to keep “flock numbers low, but quality high,” start ET work, and use different bloodlines.
“In five years, I hope to have improved quality. I plan to attend shows, have some rosettes under my belt, and continue with sheep successes. Also, I hope the popularity keeps growing for Blue Texel sheep.”
“I would have an ultimate goal of pursuing a career in the sheep industry. I want to continue my studies and learn more about the industry. Hopefully, someday, I will secure a job in the sheep industry.”
“This year has been a very good year for sheep. I find if you breed the right style of sheep, there is money to be made from sheep farming.”
“If you are breeding the quality that can achieve E and U-grade lambs, you can get the price of them, and the quality will stand out.”
“There will probably be a lot of changes that will have to come in. New technologies and schemes will be hard on rural Ireland to survive, but hopefully, we will be able to persevere,” the Sheep Ireland member concluded.
To share your story like this Blue Texel breeder, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]