Texel breeder and apprenticeship manager Jamie Brownrigg heeded advice never to compromise on quality when it comes to establishing a pedigree flock. Jonathan Long discovers why patience has been a virtue.
Getting a head start in pedigree breeding isn’t easy, as any successful breeder will tell you. It takes time to build a quality flock or herd and the reputation required to progress in any breed.
And when you set out to never compromise on quality, the task of getting established is even less easy.
But for Cumbrian-based Texel breeder Jamie Brownrigg the route to success has seen him invest heavily in good stock and take advantage of some good fortune along the way.
"I jumped at the chance
and bought the flock"
He says: “I started the flock in 2000 but unfortunately we never really got going as we were taken out in the foot-and-mouth cull in 2001.
“I didn’t wait long before I got going again though, buying four Ettrick ewes and a brace of Woodmarsh ewes to set the flock up with. They were a great starting point and I have since added a few ewes over the years as I’ve been able to.”
But a stroke of fortune a few years later really pushed the flock forward.
“I rang Texel breeder Mick Gould to see if they might have a few more ewes for sale as the first two had done so well for me.
“As it happened, Mick was beginning to consider selling the flock as he did not feel he was doing them justice. I jumped at the chance and bought the flock and the ewes have bred tremendous females for me,” says Jamie.
“Over the last five years we have bought older ewes from the Greenwood flock. These have been good solid ewes and served me well.”
In late 2014, breeder Nick Tavernor advertised the adult portion of his Salocin flock for sale.
“With a depth of pedigree and some great performance in the flock I thought they could be a good fit with my animals. I went to see them and they were a credit to him.
“The opportunity to acquire more than 30 years of hard work and meticulous decision-making in one go should not be underestimated.
“It was a flock with great traditional Texel traits. There were no poor sheep among them and I felt they had huge potential to develop.
“As a flock they were even and particularly correct.”
Opportunities to buy ready-made flocks are few and far between, but Jamie has seized upon these as a way of accessing greater numbers of top quality stock to drive his business forward. And with a full-time job as course manager for apprenticeships at Newton Rigg College, Jamie admits it can be tough to fit the sheep in around his day job.
“In some ways the two are mutually beneficial, as I have the opportunity to use my own flock as a learning tool for the students.
“Many students don’t get the chance to work with pedigree stock, but it helps show them a different side of the industry to what they may be used to seeing elsewhere,” says Jamie.
To help the flock complement his working life, Jamie uses Zwartbles teaser tups to tighten lambing and he has recently introduced AI to make the most of one of his new stock rams, Glenside Royal Welsh, bought at the Einon dispersal in July 2015 for 3,000gns.
“It works well and means I can book two weeks off work for lambing and get most of the ewes lambed. I’m lucky to have my wife, Louise, and my parents on hand to help out too, particularly once I go back to work. And at 10 years old, our daughter Caitlin is becoming a useful pair of hands too.
“The good thing is, provided the ewes are in good condition ahead of lambing, most of them can be left to get on with things on their own.
“Once ewes have lambed they tend to stay in for quite a while to ensure the lambs get off to a good start.
“We lamb in early February, but the weather can be harsh up here at that time of year, so I’d sooner leave the sheep inside than turn them out and see them suffer as a result.”
Based in Hesket Newmarket, Jamie aims to sell his rams as lambs, with many taken on to make shearlings by others.
“I did keep some lambs round to shearlings myself one year and had a good trade with them, but it’s hard to do with everything else and its equally pleasing to see them go and do well with others.
“With Castle Sowerby breeding making two champion shearlings at Hexham in the last five years, it is good to see people doing well with and making a success of my ram lambs sold at 300-500gns. Also lambs have been sold at 900gns and several at 800gns too.
“We’re still waiting for what will be a proud moment when we sell one at four figures.
“I keep all ewe lambs through to gimmers and will probably start selling a few each year from now as the numbers in the flock increase and I get to know the families in the bought-in flocks better too. We’re lambing about 150 pedigree ewes at the moment,” he explains.
“Lambs are generally creep fed to start with and then I take them off creep later to see how they grow on as the grass comes. Lambs are weaned at 12 weeks old as I want to see what they can do for themselves and it allows me to get ewes stocked more tightly for the summer.
“Ewe lambs then go away to keep on lower ground from August onwards, with these shorn in September and run there through winter on about 100 acres of grass.”
Going forward, Jamie is looking at performance recording the flock this year, having previously been sceptical of it.
“I bought three shearling ewes from Drinkstone and have seen how their lambs have performed, fleshing more easily off grass and better carrying meat compared to some non-recorded bloodlines.
“I’m keen also to use it as a tool for teaching students and to provide an educational link from the pedigree sector to the commercial sector. I do worry some lambs are being pushed too hard and whether they’ll work or not, but this is the same in non-recorded flocks.”
Developing the flock over last 15 years has seen some highs and lows, but the good times always outweigh the bad.
“When buying the Texel flock from Woodmarsh I’ve never forgotten the words of Mick who said achieving success and developing a flock would not happen quickly.
"‘You must, like anything, serve your apprenticeship – which could be more than 10 years’, he said. It was an appropriate message for an apprenticeship course manager.”