Livestock farming is a fickle business when you are constantly at the mercy of mother nature, ever increasing input costs and to top it all, no guaranteed end price, but it is almost sustainable if you are able to produce superior quality stock.
While Alan and Hazel Smith, who farm a busy 262 acres at Crumhaughhill, Hawick, are the first to admit they could not survive without Basic Farm Payment, they have seen flock margins improve significantly since they introduced some meaty Texel genetics into their 380 Mule ewe flock.

The Scottish Farmer:
By breeding regular batches of good shaped, muscly Texel cross lambs out of home-bred Texel cross Cheviot Mule ewes not only are lambs easier finished off grass, they are also attracting more money in the market place, with their overall lamb crop last year cashing in at just over £85 per head. 
In fact, such is the quality of the prime lambs now produced on this Buccleugh Estates’ farm which rises from 400-900ft above sea-level, that the Smiths regularly win top awards at the Christmas Shows and Sales at St Boswells and at Kelso in the summer with home-bred three-quarter and seven-eighths Texel lambs.
Add to that the reduction in feed costs with 90% of the lambs sold off grass by the end of November either through St Boswells, or Longtown, and they have seen some huge improvements to the bottom line.
“We have always aimed to breed good commercial ewes and tups that will produce top end prime lambs,” said Alan, who when he married Hazel in 1980, worked for a contractor in the area attending to a lot of machinery work. 
“We find Texel cross lambs are easier finished off grass and they don’t shoot the same as a Suffolk cross. A 40kg Texel cross can make the same as a 50kg Suffolk,” said Alan, who along with Hazel, took over the tenancy of her parents farm in 1984 when the business at that stage relied on bought in North of England Mules which were all crossed to the Suffolk.

The Scottish Farmer:
Texel cross ewes are also worth that bit more in the market place too, with a draft female at £100 per head plus worth more than a ewe lamb.
While the ewes are brought indoors just after Christmas and fed top quality pit silage – last year’s boasted protein levels of 14% – to allow the fields to freshen up, lambing doesn’t actually start until March. 
Texel cross ewes require minimal feeding too, with those scanned for twins given up to 2 lbs per day four to six weeks before lambing, with single mothers 1lb. Inside for up to a day post lambing, they are then transported out to grass with the first finished off grass at the beginning of August through St Boswells Auction Mart. 
The first lots have already been sold this year to average £100 per head which is up £10 on the year, with regular lots of 30-40 cashed every week from now on. 
But it is the sale of their sires – home-bred unregistered Texel shearling rams used at home as lambs from the 100 pure-bred Texel ewe flock – that have really helped to boost margins over the past few year. 
Despite being relatively new comers to the art of breeding shearling rams to sell – their first venture to the Kelso Ram Sales was in 2011 – the couple has already made a name for themselves having bred last year’s record priced unregistered shearling ram at £5000 to Paul Slater, Macclesfield. Add to that another at £4000 and numerous others four-figure sales and their pen of 24 cashed at a cracking £1341.

The Scottish Farmer:

Crumhaughhilh's Suffolk cross Texel shearlings bound for Kelso

“We always look to buy Texel stock tups with a good tight coats, good gigots and a good shoulder,” said Alan. “We never look at the head when buying a stock tup – we just look to breed sheep that are good on their legs and sheep with a good shape and carcase,” he added, pointing out that their home-bred tups are very commercially treated being outwintered at home, with box feeding only introduced on the run up to the sales.
While the first Texel ram purchased came from Robert Laird’s Cambwell flock, the sire of last year’s high flyers was a £2300 Midlock shearling ram bought at Kelso in 2013. Half of this year’s cracking pen of shearlings are again by the Midlock ram, with the remainder being sons of a £5500 Castlebank tup bought at Kelso in 2015.

Being unregistered, their foundation pure-bred females were however acquired at some very modest sums. Originally, just two Texels females were bought at Longtown, some 20+ years ago with the entire pure-bred flock built up by retaining home-bred females.
Hazel’s more recently acquired Suffolk flock was on the other hand built up from three females from the Friarland flock; and a couple each from Hazel Martindale’s Landale flock and Tom Darling, Ladyflat. Purchased to breed commercial rams to sell at Kelso, and to introduce a bit of hybrid vigour into their three-quarter, seven-eighths Texel ewe flock, they too are producing cracking lambs to sell finished off grass, with many of the ewe lambs retained for breeding.
Although it is early days as the couple has only lambed Suffolk cross gimmers, there appears to be little difference between them and the Texel crosses, although it is hoped that the Suffolk cross Texels should have slightly better udders.
There appears to be no difference in the scanned lambing percentages either, with last year’s overall flock to include the Suffolk cross Texel cross gimmers working out at 180-190% which is on par with previous years.
The pure Suffolks also provides the business with another income in that the ram lambs can be used the first year and sold the following year as shearling rams. Last year, the couple also crossed a few of the pure-bred Texels to the Suffolk to breed massive Suffolk cross Texel shearlings to sell at Kelso which are proving increasingly popular with commercial producers.

The Scottish Farmer:

Some of Hazel's Suffolks bound for Kelso

By breeding top quality prime lambs bred from their own home-bred rams, the couple has also enjoyed a growing demand for ewe lambs as breeding stock. While, the best are retained for breeding, the second draw are often sold privately at £100 per head through Border Livestock.
Having so many commercial enterprises within their flock does nevertheless make for an extremely busy summer and back-end, with ewe lambs sold privately for breeding, and prime lambs sold every week from now on.
It’s next week’s Kelso Ram Sales, which ultimately can be busiest though with 25 Texel shearlings to be sold in Ring 18 along with six Suffolk shearlings in another and 10 Suffolk cross Texels in another – in between looking for a new stock ram! And, if that wasn’t enough to be going on with, there are others entered for Wigton and Longtown! Who said it was easy being a farmer?