TEXEL & BLUE TEXEL
Hardy, adaptable and with exceptional carcass qualities, the Texel has become the dominant terminal sire breed in Ireland and the popularity of this distinctive breed is growing. Bred for meat, specifically lamb the Texel is known for the breed’s excellent carcass quality and, in particular, the high lean content and large eye muscle of the Texel cross carcasses.
The first Texels were imported into Ireland by the Department of Agriculture in 1964. In view of their reputed prolificacy, some of the rams were crossed with native breeds (Scottish Blackface, Cheviot and Galway), to compare the resultant crossbred ewes with the then more traditional Border Leicester crosses. Other breeds were included in a large scale comparison of terminal sire breeds, conducted by the Agricultural Research Institute, in the production of slaughter lambs. It was this work that highlighted the breed’s excellent carcass quality and, in particular, the high lean content and large eye muscle of the Texel cross carcasses. They were found to contain four per cent more lean meat and four per cent less fat than the average of the other sire breeds included in the comparison.
A further import of 100 Texels by the Department in 1972 from Texel Island had to be quarantined and tested on Department farms for fear of Maedi Visna. It was a further four years before they were given a clean bill of health and some of them were allocated to a number of interested breeders, who were selected by ballot. Each breeder was allowed to purchase four pedigree Texel ewes and a ram. These 15 breeders in conjunction with the Department of Agricultural Colleges, founded the Irish Texel Sheep Society in 1976. With the assistance of Department officials, these foundation members drafted a set of rules and constitution for running the Society. Six of these foundation flocks are still in existence today. The society was set up at a meeting in the Department of Agriculture on 17th June 1976.
The society grew quite rapidly and the number of members doubled within 2 years and by 1980 had increased to 60 members. Membership grew steadily through the 1980s until it reached its peak of 350 in 1993/94 and currently stands at approx 345 members.
“What type of Texel Ram should I buy?” is a question often asked by both pedigree breeders and commercial sheep farmers. Flor Ryan, with the Irish Texel Sheep Society says that what both pedigree breeders and commercial sheep farmers should look for is a well muscled sheep with rounded gigots, square quarters, well fleshed loin and correct of mouth and legs.
A Guide to Selection
GIGOTS (HAMS): The gigot area (leg of lamb) should be as wide and deep as possible with solid muscling down to the hock. This gives a football shaped appearance to gigots. (Most valuable part of carcass).
HIND QUARTER AND LOINS: The area between the last rib of the sheep and the tail head should be as long and wide as possible with deep fleshing and muscling. (One of the most valuable parts of the carcass). The loin should be wide and well muscled maintaining its width towards the shoulder.
Avoid: Softness around the tail head area (indicates fat, not lean).
LEGS AND FEET: Texel legs should be capable of carrying a muscular body. Legs should be covered with white hair. Back legs should be well sprung from the hocks. Sheep should be up on their pasterns. Hooves should be solid black and meet the ground squarely.
Avoid: Weak pasterns; Bandy hocks; Bowed front legs; Whiteness in hooves (leads to soft hooves); Excessive brown hair.
HEAD: The length of the head is approximately one and a half times its width, the muzzle is wide with nose flared and black eyedrops also black pigment, short white fine hair should cover the head. Texels should have a deep jaw line, teeth should meet the dental pad correctly. Avoid over and under shot sheep.
Avoid: Very large heads; Pink, white or grey nosed sheep (leads to white and soft hooves); Brown hair.
BODY LENGTH: The body length should give a balanced sheep with a level back and well sprung ribs.
Avoid: Slackness on the shoulder; Long narrow (sausage type) bodies.
SHOULDERS AND CHEST: Texel shoulders should be flat on top and no wider than the rib cage.
Avoid: Sharp shoulders; Heavy brisket.
WOOL: Wool should be highly crinkled and with close staple (lambs with tight wool will have excellent thrive and good kill-out).
What are Blue Texels?
Blue Texels are similar to white Texels, but express the "blue" (Abl ) coat pattern. This is a recessive gene in the Texel breed, and Blue Texels breed true for it. Blue sheep are found in all Texel types from the smaller Dutch Texels to the larger Texels common in Britain. There is evidence of higher fertility in Blue Texels. The blue pattern can vary from very pale animals to quite dark, but no part of the fleece is fully black or white. The black head, ears and legs have symmetrical white markings. The flank wool is lighter than the shoulders and belly, sometimes a pale silvery blue. If two white Texels carry the blue gene, there is a 25% chance of a blue lamb from a mating. Matings between blue sheep will always produce blue lambs.
Uses of the Breed
Blue Texel rams are competitive as commercial terminal sires for producing prime crossbred lambs for the trade. As the colour pattern is recessive, most crossbred lambs will be white.
They also are a suitable terminal sire for coloured or rare breeds, to produce meaty coloured crossbred lambs, with possible added value from fleece, yarn, felt and furskins. There is a strong emphasis on the selection of top quality rams for breeding purposes.
For the small pedigree flock owner, Blue Texels are attractive and friendly occupants of home paddocks, parkland and orchards. The ewes are docile, thrifty and good mothers. They tend to have narrower heads than the more extreme Texel types, and therefore avoid the lambing problems sometimes found with the white breed..
Like all other white breeds, modern Texels contain genetic material from the earliest sheep, including the recessive colour patterns. Blue Texels have been bred to select this colour. Other factors, like higher fertility, may be linked to the colour gene.