Turning out quality breeding stock has long been the focus for Kevin Buckle and sons, Jack and Tom, and this year has been their most successful to date.
The Buckles family has farmed at Buckles Farm, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria, together with fell rights on Stainmore common, for three generations.
It rises to 488 metres (1,600ft) at its highest point and is run over 265 hectares (655 acres).
Neighbouring Broxty Farm, spanning 70ha (167 acres), was bought eight years ago, and the two units now collectively support a stratified system of more than 1,500 head of sheep, breeding pure Swaledales, Mules and Texel crosses, alongside a pedigree Beltex flock and, most recently, the installation of a 32,000-bird free-range hen unit five years ago.
The family began using Beltex lines commercially in 2000, but it was following a restructure to the farm business after foot-and-mouth in 2001 when the foundations of the pedigree flocks was established, with foundation females imported from breeders in Belgium.
The farm now runs 150 head of pedigree Beltex between the Buckles flock, established in 2001, and the more recently founded Broxty flock, which is owned by Jack and Tom.
Jack also recently started keeping a handful of crossing-type Bluefaced Leicesters, topping the breed at the Great Yorkshire Show and some local shows this year.
Commitment and hard work have seen their reputation go from strength to strength, with the family regularly topping the show and sale rings, as well as exporting embryos from the flocks and, more recently, live sheep into Europe.
Kevin says: “We have been carrying out the embryo work for some 17 years. It tightens up our lambing period, so we can lamb a few hundred ewes over four to five days. It also helps us fast-track our best genetics by flushing our best ewes.
“As well as for our own use, we also export embryos into Europe and other destinations worldwide.
“This included a consignment of more than 200 Beltex embryos into New Zealand after the market was re-opened three years ago, which we were quite proud of.
“More recently, after being involved in an industry trip to SIMA Show in Paris several years ago and making some contacts, we started live exporting Mule and Texel cross gimmer lambs for breeding, mainly into France and other European countries.”
In the last few years, the flock has also started working with AB Europe on a trial using sexed semen in sheep.
Kevin says: “The technology is still relatively new in the sheep sector, but it has worked well for us so far and fits into our current system.
“While we have an outlet and good demand for ewe lambs to go abroad, we will continue to use it.”
Alongside this embryo work for markets overseas, the flock does two flushes for the business each year, with Dorset Down cross and Suffolk cross ewes used as recipients.
Beltex shearlings, as well as some Mules and Swaledales crossed to Bluefaced Leicester, are artificially inseminated, with tups used across the rest of the flock.
Kevin says: “The Dorsets cycle a bit earlier, so we will use those as recipients for the earlier lambing Beltex flock in the last week of January to get lambs on the ground for earlier shows and sales.
“The rest of the recipients will lamb in the last week of February, alongside the Beltex ewes, and the rest of the sheep at the end of March, all indoors.”
Making the grade
With the exception of occasional bought-in tups and the odd female mainly bred in the UK, the flocks are virtually closed.
For the Beltex flock, this year has seen them take a half share in the 10,000gns Gyffin Dexter, a Smart Ass Buster son from Gethin Mathias, Carmarthenshire, but bought at Ruthin as a lamb from Edward Lewis, Conwy; plus a third share in 9,000gns Ardstewart Dare Devil from Wade and Alison McCrabbe, Co Donegal.
Ewe lambs which do not make the grade for replacements or export and some wethers are sold as stores or finished and sold deadweight or through Kirkby Stephen or Bentham marts, depending on grass availability and the trade.
Producing and selling quality breeding stock remains their main outlet though, and this year has been the family’s most successful to date, kicking off with the private sale of ram lamb, Buckles Espresso.
Jack says: “The Heatheryhall Campbell son is the first tup lamb out of the 8,500gns College Adele, a good show ewe we bought from Ted Fox at the College flock reduction sale in 2016.”
Sired by a Kingledores tup, Adele has picked up several prizes on the circuit, including the Beltex championship at the Great Yorkshire Show in 2017.
Jack says: “After a lot of interest, we sold Espresso privately to the Withytrees flock for 30,000gns.
“Another to make 30,000gns was Buckles Dark Dawn, a son of Ardstewart Armani out of homebred ewe Buckles Annie Power. It sold at Carlisle to Alfie Taylor’s Heatheryhall flock.”
Buckles Dark Intentions also made 11,000gns at Carlisle. This one by Glantre Norris sold to Andrew and Angus Mutch, Oxfordshire. After a strong day’s selling at the mart, they averaged 6,500gns for 13 sheep sold, the highest they have ever achieved.
They also enjoyed a successful trip to Kelso ram sales this year, taking the Beltex championship with their home-bred shearling, Buckles Dragon Slayer, by Broxty Supreme and out of Buckles Annie Power. It sold for 6,000gns to mark a Kelso Beltex record to Michael Hall, Airton.
Buckles Designer, a full sister to Dark Intentions, was their top price at this year’s Beltex Beauties sale at 4,500gns, and sold in a twoway split to Andrew Morton and Graeme Sinclair.
There were a few rosettes to collect in the showring too, with Dark Intentions topping the Beltex judging at the Great Yorkshire to mark their fourth championship title at the show, as well as winning the group of three section for the six consecutive year they have shown there.
Jack also had the Bluefaced Leicester overall and reserve championship in Yorkshire with a four-crop ewe and reserve champion with a gimmer shearling on what was his first time exhibiting the breed at the show.
After selling two tup lambs to average £1,000, he has bought a share in a new stock tup for £11,000 from Robin Booth of the Smearsett flock and, after flushing, has 30 embryos which will be put into Mule recipients.
The Buckles have built their business and reputation around breeding quality breeding stock and prize-winning Beltex, and this will continue to be at the fore of their sheep enterprise while keeping an eye on developments in an ever-changing marketplace.