Texels have the largest entries in the sheep section and the man tasked with sorting them out is the breed society chairman, Steve Richardson. Angela Calvert went to meet him at home in South Yorkshire.
Having only visited the Royal Highland Show once before, Steve Richardson is looking forward to the challenge of judging the Texel classes.
He says: “It is a great honour to be asked to judge. I will have some of the best sheep in the UK in front of me.”
Texels have always been the breed of choice for Mr Richardson who farms at Great Houghton, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire.
A third generation farmer, he and his family moved to the current base, Mount Pleasant Farm, on the Wentworth Estate, 33 years ago.
Pigs and arable are core enterprises and the business has expanded over the years and now runs to 130 hectares (320 acres) of arable and 16ha (40 acres) of grass which includes another farm 12 miles away where Mr Richardson’s son, Adam, a chartered surveyor with his own business, lives with his wife, Kelly, and children, James, four, and Hope, two.
The first Texels arrived on the farm in 1991. Mr Richardson says: “I had not kept sheep before, but after the move there were some grass paddocks which needed utilising so we decided to start a pedigree flock.
“The first step was choosing a breed. We looked around at a number of breeds before buying Texels, mainly because of their superior carcase and the fact they did not need trimming for shows and sales.”
In establishing the Stonebridge flock, the first five ewes were bought from Giles Crust in Lincolnshire, followed by a Glenside ram bought at Banbury market and females from Steve Williams’ Wollascott flock.
Rams are often shared with Pete Longdin, a friend from his Young Farmers days who started up in Texels at the same time.
But one of the most influential on the flock has been Allanfauld Rockafella, bought for 18,000gns in partnership with the Heyworth Lodge, Cambwell and Alwent flocks.
As the flock expanded, it enjoyed increasing success at shows and sales.
Mr Richardson says: “When I started my ambitions were to sell a ram for 1,000gns and then win the ram lamb class at the Yorkshire Show.”
Both these targets have been met and somewhat exceeded. They won the ram lamb class in 1999 with Stonebridge Fantastic, which went on to sell for 6,000gns at Carlisle, and in 2003 with Stonebridge Jetset. In 2008 they took the breed championship with a gimmer lamb.
Top price in the sale ring is 9,500gns for the ram lamb, Stonebridge Tiger, a Rockafella son, in 2012 at Carlisle selling to Mrs Dunlop, Searigg, with its ET brother Thunder making 3,800gns to Brian MacTaggart’s Douganhill flock.
Mr Richardson says: “The main aim of the sheep business is to produce shearling rams to sell to commercial producers and about 20 are sold direct from the farm every year mainly to repeat customers.
“Some, such as George and Michael Wood from Penistone, having been buying from us since 1994.”
The remainder of the shearlings are sold at the Northern Area club sale at Skipton, where the Stonebridge flock has twice taken the championship with rams selling up to 3,000gns. Breeding stock has also been exported to Romania.
Occasionally, females are sold with the top price being 5,100gns for an Allanfauld Rockafella
daughter at the national sale at Worcester.
“Having ram lambs to sell at Lanark and Carlisle is a bonus and I am hopeful we will have a few to sell this year,” he says.
“Adam quickly developed a passion for Texels right from the start and everything was planned around shows and sales. We have had great times showing as a family with my daughter, Hannah, involved as well and she is still always around at lambing time if needed.
“Adam’s work commitments mean he does not have much time to spend on sheep, so we now just compete at the Great Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Shows.”
The flock now stands at 35 pedigree ewes plus recipients. All ewes are AI’d and four or five of the best are flushed each year.
Rams used last year are the home-bred Yogi, which is shared with Rob Cartledge, and Drumgooland Adam, bought on a trip to Northern Ireland in partnership with Mr Longdin, Proctors Farm, and Sam Beachell, Samsar flock. In addition, semen was used from Douganhill Young Gun.
In 2016 Stonebridge won the AHDB Most Improved Flock award for the breed which goes to the flock which has made the most gains in performance recording over the year.
He says: “We were delighted to win the award after recording for five years. The ram which has had the most influence on the flock by improving weight gain and growth rates was Newbie Mains Winston bought from Andrew Goldie.
“Figures are becoming increasingly important. Not only are buyers wanting to buy tups with figures, but it allows me to select for the traits I am looking for in my own flock.
“Further down the line I think the use of genomics in the sheep industry will make the selecting traits required for breeding stock easier.”
Mr Richardson has been on the board of the Texel Sheep Society since 2002 and has held a number of positions before taking on the chairmanship earlier in the year.
He says: “Joining the Texel Sheep Society has been one of the best things I have ever done and I have made friends all over the UK and Europe because of it.
“Judging highlights have been the Scottish national sale and the Scottish flock competition, but I would not be able spend time away from home at shows and on society business if it was not for the great team of staff I have at home, Barry Sugden, Connor Watson and Craig Dixon.
“I believe there are exciting times ahead as we head into unchartered waters.
“The breed society has a good team in place at head office, headed by CEO, John Yates, and we have some really important research and development projects under way.
“The majority of Texel rams are sold into commercial flocks and it is essential we are producing what the market wants with the focus on carcase traits.
“Post-Brexit this will be even more important. As a pig farmer I probably have a different overview, as farming without subsidy has been a key factor in how we operate.
“But I am optimistic and believe that for those who are prepared to make greater use of technology there is a bright future.”
An ET ram lamb by Douganhill Young Gun with its recipient dam.