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Family's pedigree sheep production goes hand-in-hand with commercial success

The pedigree world can often be quite far removed from the commercial one within sheep breeding, but some breeders manage to break into both markets. 


Farmers Guardian meets one such family.

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Family's pedigree sheep production goes hand-in-hand with commercial success

No other flock in recent years can claim to have achieved top price at the breed’s Scottish National sale on four occasions and also at the Kelso Ram Sales on three instances.


The fact they have accomplished this is testament to the family’s persistent focus over the years on breeding ‘well balanced sheep, with carcase as well as character’.


Brothers Alan, Andrew and David now run the business in partnership with their mum, Helen, after their dad, Jim, sadly passed away in 2012.


It spans three farms, North Garngour, Blackhill and Lee Meadow, all within a 10-mile radius, with the owned land totaling 405 hectares (1,000 acres) and a further 121 ha (300 acres) rented.


There they milk 125 Holstein cattle and run 60 pedigree Texel ewes, 700 cross ewes, 180 beef suckler cows, a few pedigree Charolais and Shorthorns.


Over the past 20 years, Texels have become an integral part of the business and a main source of income, but they have been part of the set-up since Jim bought two gimmers from the first importation into the UK in 1974.


At that point he was farming in partnership with his brother Archie and ran the Woodlands flock, but the business was split in 1989, with Jim and Helen continuing to breed Texels under the new Garngour prefix.

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Early influential purchases include Elite Uptown Dancer, bought in 1990 at Carlisle, which turned out to be a particularly strong female breeder. It also bred Garngour Whizz Kid, which made 4,000gns in 1992.


Then there was Nethermuir Confetti, a 7,000gns joint purchase in 1996, which bred the flock’s first five-figure priced ram, Garngour Diplomat, which sold for 17,000gns at Lanark in 1997, and also sired Garngour Elite, sold for 6,500gns the following year.


Andrew says: “We kept a third share in Elite that year and he went on to breed Garngour Fieldmarshall, which was reserve champion and topped the trade at Lanark in 1999, selling for 14,000gns.”


In the subsequent years there have been many more five-figure sales and often they have been sired by home-bred or ‘bargain’ priced tups.


For example, their 40,000gns Garngour Nirvana in 2007 was sired by Hexel Lexus, which had been bought for 1,600gns, while their top price to date, the 70,000gns Teiglum Young Gun in 2016, was sired by a home-bred tup, Teiglum Windfall, which they used semen from having sold him the previous year.


Alan says: “We put huge emphasis on the quality of our females, the depth of breeding we have built up over the years is the greatest strength of the flock. They need to be powerful, without losing femininity and they have to be correct.


"This follows through in their breeding too, so we are selective with the females we keep for breeding.”

There are two main female lines running through the flock – one, which has produced many of the flock’s best rams, including the 40,000gns Garngour Alabama, goes back to a Dentox ewe bought in the late 1980s.


The other one goes back to a Douganhill gimmer bought in 1999, and this is the line which bred the 70,000gns Young Gun and 60,000gns Teiglum Tornado, among others.


Andrew says: “We record the flock and, interestingly, we have found our best sheep do tend to have the best figures. Both of those lines have outstanding figures.


“We are also involved in a mastitis programme with the society, to help them learn more about the issue and hopefully help tackle it in the breed. I think the breed as a whole has improved a lot of the past five years or so, the sheep are generally bigger and healthier.”


The family carry out embryo work to take advantage of the best female lines in their flock, flushing a select group each year. The first of those are artificially inseminated in September to lamb mid-February, with a later group AI’d to lamb from March 20.


The pure ewes were previously all AI’d, but for the past two years they have switched back to natural tupping in the hope of achieving a better success rate. They lamb at the end of February, while the cross ewe lambing takes place in April.


This year’s tups include three new purchases from Lanark: Silvermere Baltic, bought jointly for 17,000gns; the 3,200gns Kingspark Bentley; and the 2,800gns Forkins Bently, plus a joint purchase from Carlisle, the 12,000gns Knock Bantastic.


They will be using Knock Yardsman once again too, having had success with him for the past two years, with sons making up to 40,000gns.


Yardsman also bred the sale topper at this year’s Kelso Ram Sales, Garngour Awesome, which sold at £29,000 to large-scale commercial ram producer Paul Slater.


It was one of 10 in the pen that day, which averaged out at £4,225, securing the flock the Texel Society’s PRT Shield, awarded to the recorded flock with the best average at Kelso, for the third year in a row.

Andrew says: “We have been selling at Kelso for more than 30 years and the breed has changed a lot in that time. Texels have gone from being sold in small numbers, to now being the most dominant breed at the sale. The standard of sheep at the sale has improved a huge amount over the years and good commercial sheep will always sell well there.”


Before selling as shearlings at Kelso, the boys use the home-bred rams as lambs on their cross flock, with those lambs finished at home and sold either live through the ring at Lanark, or direct to Vivers Scotlamb at Annan.


The cross and pure sheep are maedi visna accredited and scrapie monitored, which means they can be used as recipients and also helps when exporting pedigree Texels, which they often do to Switzerland, France, Holland, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland. They have also sold semen to Brazil.


The Clarks regularly sell females at home and abroad, both privately and at sales, primarily the Select Seven sale at Lanark in December, where they sell about 20 each year, with prices peaking at 9,000gns to date.


David explains: “Dad was keen to start selling in-lamb gimmers in 1996, so that year we sold 60 to average £1,051, which was an amazing trade. It later developed into the annual Select Seven sale, along with six other consignors. There are many gimmer sales on the go now, but the demand for Texel females seems to continue to grow each year.”


The boys have always been keen to support the local and national shows, although these days they have reduced their outings to three local events – Lesmahagow, Stirling and Biggar – plus the Royal Highland and the Great Yorkshire shows.


They have enjoyed plenty success at all of those, none more so than in 2016 when they secured the overall breed champion at the Highland and the Yorkshire, plus the inter-breed sheep accolade at the Yorkshire, with a home-bred gimmer by Castlecairn Vavavoom.


It proved its worth as a breeder too, producing the 70,000gns Teiglum Young Gun.


David says: “People often say show sheep are different to the type of sheep which will breed, but we have certainly never found that.”


Andrew adds: “It is always really satisfying to see sheep which we have sold go on and breed well too, there have been three six-figure lambs sold in the last couple of years which have been sired by our lambs and the top price at Lanark for the past four years has been off a tup which we have bred.”


There is no doubting the family’s enthusiasm for the Texel breed and this is not likely to let up any time soon. There are, however, other projects underway which are keeping them on their toes, including the installation of two robot milkers and a shed extension for the milking herd.


Alan explains: “The cows were previously averaging 11,800kg, but we pulled this back to 10,700kg to help ease the management of the herd. Hopefully with the robots, we will be able to realise the full potential in the cows in addition to having an easier managed set-up.”


And as each of them now have young families to keep them even busier, with the next generation of Clarks currently numbering eight, any ease of management will surely be much appreciated.


Farm facts

  • North Garngour Farm was bought in 1984, with the family buying Blackhill in 2003 and Lee Meadow in 2009
  • 125 Holstein Friesians, plus 175 followers
  • The beef herd totals 180 sucklers which are mainly put to the Charolais, with some to the Simmental and Shorthorn bulls. Calves are sold as stores
  • The land is entirely Less Favoured Area and rises to 305 metres (1,000ft)
  • Other than silage, the only crops grown are 12ha (30 acres) of wholecrop for the dairy cattle
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