PRODUCING stock that not only meets specifications for the butcher and export markets but also has the ability to produce the next generation of breeding stock is no mean feat, and for the Hall family at Inglewood Edge that’s exactly what the Beltex breed does for them. 

The breed has helped brothers, John and Peter, as well as John’s daughter Joanne, make a name for themselves in the prime lamb show and sales rings but it’s the 1900-strong flock of Beltex-sired females that really prove their worth as fit and fertile breeding stock that requires, contrary to popular belief of continental breeds, very little maintenance.

Having moved to Inglewood Edge – which sits high above Dalston with views north to Carlisle and south to Penrith – back in 1949, the Halls, together with John’s wife Mary and Peter’s wife Elizabeth, now run a total of 2250 sheep and 70 suckler cows on 911 acres. The team previously had two farms and ran 450 cows between to two units as well as Swaledale ewes on the hill farm, from which draft females were used to produce Mules back at Inglewood Edge. But it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the Halls first caught sight of the Beltex breed and even had some of the first imports back in 1985. 

The Scottish Farmer:

     Some of the 500-600 gimmes retained each year

“I remember going to see then and that was it, we liked the look of them and have been heavily involved in all aspects ever since,” said John of his introduction to the breed. “I like everything about them really as not only do they provide a good female line but, carcase-wise, the fat lambs have a far better conformation than anything else you see. They’ve got a good temperament too and are easy to look after – contrary to what a lot of people think they’re a hardy sheep, don’t take a lot of feeding and are good maintainers of their own body condition.”

The Halls use around 350 North Country Cheviot draft ewes bought at Dingwall as a base which are then covered by the Beltex to produce both fat lambs as well as replacement females which trickle in to the 1900-strong Beltex cross flock, including the 500-600 replacements retained each year. 

The Scottish Farmer:

      Cheviot ewes with their Beltex-sired lambs 

“We need to have something to lamb outside and the Cheviot is a good hardy sheep that is capable of producing a ewe that we use in our March-lambing flock, and gives us a bit of extra mothering ability,” pointed out Joanne, adding a 500-strong early-lambing flock starts at the beginning of March while the remainder lamb down from early April onwards. 

These Beltex-sired lambs are all sold through Penrith, of which Joanne is a director, and Wigton from July through to April and mostly to Vivers, with last year’s selection of 1425 cashing in to average £110 per head at 38kg to 39kg, the majority of which will have graded the desired E3L.

Rams that have made the biggest impact from the 50 or so put to work each year have come from Alastair Maclean’s Northcop flock as well as Neale and Janet McQuistin’s Airyolland flock, which have all proved to be the real female makers and produced the base of the female stock. Joanne has also been impressed with the two Culsh tups bought from Jean and John McLean, last year, while a Digga’s ram is proving to be a real favourite and the sire of many of this year’s lambs with show potential. 

The Scottish Farmer:

      Some of the favourite stock tups

“I like the traditional type of Beltex – calling the bare-skinned sorts the more modern type – which, while they also can be blue-skinned, have the good carcase and better skin we’re after. We would like to have the more modern type but the conditions here don’t allow it as we rise from 750 to 100 feet above sea level,” commented Joanne.

“Every year we go with the intent to buy a tup to breed good lambs – the smaller sort with a good carcase, plenty gigot and deep flank that is also good over the shoulder. A good tail is important too and you want as much flesh above the tail as you do below it which not only makes for a better show sheep but also improves the lambing ease. 

“We then have to look at something that will produce a female you can get lambs out of – they’ve got to be wide enough from the hips back to the shoulder with good skin, plenty length and character if you can get it. But finding one to do both jobs can sometimes be difficult.”

The Scottish Farmer:

     Stock tups show of their money-making end

The Halls have also used some tups of their own breeding on the Cheviot flock and have sold cross tups at Penrith and Wigton to a top of £2000 to average £1000, which is a welcome bonus to the bottom line but not a main consideration when selecting stock. 

It’s on the winter show circuit that the name Inglewood Edge really earns its keep as, since competing at their first Scottish Winter Fair around 1998, the Halls have won six live championships having won the carcase title a few times too. They’ve also won the prestigious live/dead competition at Earls Court, where a single lamb was picked at random from a pen of three to be judged on the hook while the remaining two were judged on the hoof, as well as the Welsh Winter Fair, the Borderway Agri-Expo and English Winter Fair, and at local prime markets.

The Scottish Farmer:

     Some of the lambs showing potential for the show ring

“Dad always wanted to show sheep and we achieved better results in the carcase competitions with the superior conformation from the Beltex,” explained Joanne, who plays her part on the Beltex Sheep Society as an inspector at sales while John was a member of council for 15 years, a past president and one of only three honorary life members. “We started with a lot of live/dead competitions and like the fact we get out and about with Beltex at shows to promote the breed which we’ve always been keen to do.”

While winning their share of tickets is a highlight of the year and a welcome confirmation that they’re producing the goods, it’s the easy-care nature of the Beltex-sired females that really make the job worthwhile. This is evident in that all the ewes are sent away for wintering, albeit it on good dairy ground, but receive no supplement feeding until they are brought in for lambing, bar a mineral block offered during the festive period. 

This year saw a scanning percentage of 164% which Joanne commented was surprisingly similar to previous years despite the wet winter and spring. At lambing, they’re fed a mixed silage and concentrate ration which is kept to a minimum and mostly to ensure they receive enough vitamin and minerals as the heavy ground at Inglewood Edge tends to keep them locked up, particularly magnesium.

The Scottish Farmer:

     Some of the Beltex-bred Cheviots will join the main breeding flock

The team tries to leave females to get on with the job themselves, as Joanne points out time is a big help to a Beltex, but all are settled into individual pens once the lambs are brought into the world. They are then ringed while in their pens, treated with an iodine dip on their navel and for watery mouth – of which there have never been any issues – and all udders are wiped down. 

“Mastitis has always been our biggest problem and I would love to know why. It’s probably worse on the gimmers expecting twins so we try to give them an extra bite but so far haven’t discovered a solution. Wiping has helped reduce cases but it hasn’t fixed the problem by any means,” said Joanne.

Both John and Joanne are keen to point out that it’s very much a team effort at Inglewood Edge and, while Peter takes care of the haulage machinery and business side of things, they couldn’t do it without top cow man, Pete Edmonson, who has been with them for more than 40 years. The shepherding duo of Steven Watson and Chloe Hunter have also proved irreplaceable and have really improved the mobility of the flock thanks to their top team of dogs. Steven also heads up a shearing team to keep them busy during the summer and when Chloe is not helping roll wool, she can be found scanning stock around the country. 

The latest addition to the team is Johnny Aiken who, despite helping them at fatstock shows since the late 1980s, joined full-time around 18 months ago and as he settles in is proving a valuable asset to the team. 

The Scottish Farmer:

     Plenty style and shape in this year's gimmer crop

“We can’t get away without labour and if something needs done it needs done so we’re very lucky with our reliable, long-term members of staff, with other members of staff brought in for lambing such as Martin Ruddock and Hugh Condron. Joe Wales is another, he’s here every Monday as part of his course at Newton Rigg,” said Joanne. 

With such a good team on board, the Halls are keen to improve certain aspects of the business as and when they can and the introduction of soil sampling is one practise that is set to continue. 

“We started soil and grass sampling three years ago and now only fertilise accordingly which has boosted the grass growth. We also increased the number of vitamin doses given to the lambs to help with uptake as the soil and grass here does tend to lock up some vitamins. We worm sample now too as we’d previously always wormed but now lambs are wormed once before we sample to decide if we need to worm again,” commented Joanne. 

The Scottish Farmer:

      One of the favourite lambs with show potential

“The weather has always proved challenging here at Inglewood Edge as it’s a very heavy farm and holds the wet in the ground. If it’s a good year we’ve just got to get on and do the things we can’t in a bad year. That’s something dad always taught me – there’s no cheap or easy way to go about things, you have to do everything and it as to be done properly.”

And doing it properly in the future includes the Beltex, as its ability to produce the goods in the auction ring as well as a strong maternal line is, according to the Hall family, second to none.