Few farms have topped the prime lamb trade more at the two Stirling markets in recent years, than the Taylor’s Perthshire-based Easter Ochtermuthill operation from Crieff, which week in week out regularly attract prices in excess of 230p per live kg.
It was Jimmy Taylor and his mother Christine’s Beltex sheep that also took the lamb trade by storm at C and D auction mart’s Longtown centre earlier in the year too, when their old season entries secured the lead prices on the six occasions they ventured south of the Border.
Such was the demand for top quality sheep at the end of March/ beginning of April, that their pure-bred and cross-bred Beltex lambs sold to a top of £128 per head or 320p per kg. During this six week period, they sold 170 with an average weight of 40.5kg, to level at £115 per head.
“There does seem to be a better trade for the fancy, meaty lambs south of the Border,” said Jimmy.
“Beltex and Beltex cross lambs always attract a premium through the live market, and there is more of a premium in the south. Butchers tend to look for heavier lambs up here which unfortunately means more feeding.”
With just 200 extremely hard-working grassland acres at Easter Octermuthill which is leased from Drummond Estates, along with a further 50 rented acres at Gleneagles, Auchterarder, adding value is a must here.

The Scottish Farmer:

Beltex ewes at Easter Ochtermuthill

However, these premium lamb prices come at a cost, with the extreme Beltex-type ewes and rams required to breed progeny with that all important deep muscled back-end proving difficult to manage due to the breathing difficulties associated with their short necks and bodies.
While lambing Mule ewes, Suffolk, Lleyn, and even Blackie ewes carrying Beltex cross lambs will be a dawdle, Jimmy is the first to admit there are problems lambing pure-bred and cross-bred Beltex ewes. 
Furthermore, the shorter and more extreme muscled the ewes are, the more difficult they are to lamb, which in turn often means a costly trip to the vet for a side door exit. 
Yet it is the progeny from these real double muscled meat machines that always attract the prize rosettes and the big money in the show and sale ring. Switch to a longer type of Beltex, which are easier to manage, and more often than not, you lose the extreme muscle.
Prolificacy can be an issue too with Jimmy’s sheep regularly scanning out at 160-165% compared to 170-180% which was the norm when the business relied more on Suffolk cross ewes.
“We used to run a lot of Suffolks and Suffolk cross Cheviot ewes before to breed Suffolk cross lambs for the early lamb market, but there was so much work involved sooking the lambs. The ewes were great mothers, but their lambs were just hard work,” said Jimmy.
As a result, the business looked to the Beltex as a terminal sire and purchased their first females and a couple of rams at Carlisle in the mid 1990s from the late Gavin Shanks, Inveresk, with others from Alan Thom and John McIlwraith.
“The first year was great as we never had to sook any lambs,” he added pointing out that he was so impressed at the way the lambs performed and sold, the business looked to retain some of the cross-bred females for breeding while also establishing a pedigree flock.
As a result, this extremely exposed farm which some years has to bear the brunt of 70” of rain, is home to 200 pedigree Beltex and a further 350 Beltex, Suffolk and Texel cross ewes, of which all are crossed back to the Dutch-bred sire.
Lambing kicks off at the end of February beginning of March, with the gimmers lambing at the beginning of April. All are lambed inside, with feeding only introduced when they are brought under cover to straw-bedded pens at 1/4pound per head per day.
“Beltex ewes are not the biggest of ewes but they do produce the best lambs off grass although the lambs do take that bit longer to finish,” added Jimmy.

The Scottish Farmer:

Just a few of this year's lamb crop

With so many sheep lambing inside, disease and particular joint-ill was becoming an issue, with the result that Jimmy used pine shavings this year which are supposed to be cleaner and healthier, instead of straw for individual pens.
No disinfectant powder was used with additional pine shavings used between ewes and their lambs. As a result, joint ill was virtually eliminated in the lambs and there were fewer feet problems in the ewes and gimmers. There was no mastitis outbreaks in the shed either, although some ewes picked it up in the warm weather outside !
With limited acreage, Jimmy and Christine do all the work on the farm, with assistance from Jimmy’s son, James at lambing time. All shearing and forage work is done in house, with a further 25 acres of hay grown every year to sell.
If that wasn’t enough to be going on with, the business also finishes up to 80 bought in Limousin and British Blue cross cattle every year, which again, regularly top the market having been finished on an ad-lib 15% protein East Coast Viners alka beef finisher gaining 1.5kg per day. 
A further 300-400 store lambs were also purchased last year. These were made up of Beltex cross and Blackface lambs which were bought in at £70 and £45 and sold three to six months later at £110 and £80, respectively.
At this time of year though, there are 50 pedigree tups, all of which have been used on farm as lambs and wintered outside to get ready for various events to include the two sales at Stirling and Lanark, and to sell privately. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Home-bred shearling and ram lambs for sale

Next week’s three-day show and sale of rams and females at Borderway Mart, Carlisle, is the big one though, with Easter Ochtermuthill having 10 shearling rams and six ram lambs up for grabs. 
They will sell well too as let’s face it, what else is there to beat a Beltex when the lambs regularly secure prices of £20 per head more than the average…