THERE will be no doubting the shearling rams on offer at Kelso Ram Sales are of a different and more commercially-minded calibre than the lambs sold at premier sales earlier in the season, but producing to that standard is just what husband and wife duo, John and Emma Green, backed up by John’s parents Roger and Susan, are doing with their Greenall flock of pedigree Texels. 

The couple moved to The Craggs Farm from the family’s beef and sheep unit near Clitheroe, Lancashire, some 10 years ago now and, surprisingly, it was the better weather that lured them to the 240-acre arable unit near Lilliesleaf, Melrose. A few years later Roger and Susan moved north and play an active part in the farm today. 

“We moved north for the drier climate – we were getting 80 inches of rain per year where we were compared to just 30 inches up here. That and there was very little straw or barley near where we were whereas now we buy it from neighbouring farms which really saves on costs,” explained John. 

That’s come in handy for the 25-cow pedigree Charolais herd that also runs under the Greenall name, as bulls have reached 11,000gns at Stirling and secured the championship at the Carlisle Christmas Cracker sale too. 

The Scottish Farmer:

     Some of the shearlings heading to Kelso

But it’s the Texel flock that is really setting the Greenall name in stone which is impressive as the flock is only in its sixth year and was initially founded to give John and Emma’s sons, seven-year-old Gilbert and William, five, something to get more involved in than the cattle. 
John had always had a keen eye for a Texel but after a bit of sweet talking from Gordon and David Gray, of the Ettrick and Tima flocks, he invested in 14 females bought privately from the Priestley family’s Summerwood flock from Lancashire, as well as a single ewe from Ettrick. The family set up an AI and flushing programme to increase numbers with a focus on quality and uniformity, and are grateful to the Grays for all their help in those early days. Those initial 15 ewes were flushed and AI’d to Knock Papoose and, having established which were the best breeders, the Greens weeded out the rest and now focus on three main female families.

“Texels are easy to work with and being big, bare and muscly, they are the best breed there is for the terminal sire job. We contract rear 72,000 pheasants each year which takes up a lot of our time during the summer months, so any sheep have got to be easily managed,” pointed out John, who also rents out 40 acres to grow Christmas trees. “We’re looking for the big, bare commercial type and to breed a shearling worth £1000 – anything above that is a bonus and we’ve 41 shearlings to sell in total this year between Kelso, Skipton and Stirling.”

They’re certainly on track price wise as in 2016, their first year at Kelso, they sold 12 to level at £1280 and improved on that last year when they sold 14 last year to average £1549. In 2017, the Greens received their best price yet when their pen peaked at £5000 followed at £4500 for two shearlings sired by Roxburgh Shot Gun Willie, with another by a home-bred sire third in line at £3600. 

The Scottish Farmer:

     Kelso-bound shearlings show off their business end

This year’s 20-strong batch of stretchy but well-muscled shearlings selling through Ring 9 at Kelso next week includes one from William and Gilbert’s eight-ewe Little Green flock as they hope to surpass the £1100 top price they received in 2016. Sires include the 7800gns Strathbogie Wild Boy, the £9000 Langside Stiffler and the £5000 Greenall Yaya Toure that was used as a lamb and had semen drawn before he topped the Greenall pen last year. 

The breeding programme these days sees the best 10 Texel females flushed each year with embryos inserted in to home-bred recipient females, while the remaining 40 ewes are AI’d to lamb during the same period. Lambing for the pedigree flock starts at the end of February through to the first days of March and keeping things commercially minded, the females are run outside until 10 days before they’re due to lamb. While inside, they’re offered a silage, barley, soya and mineral mix before they’re turfed out to grass by March 20 to make space for the commercial flock. Having run on grass all summer, tup lambs are then moved to kale in November and are fed a 1lb per head ration of oats, soya and sugar beet until the spring grass begins to grow. 

The Scottish Farmer:

      Tup lambs out at grass already showing promise

“We started off selling tup lambs, up to 1100gns in the first year then 4000gns the next, but thought we would have a better chance of making a go of it in the shearling market as there’s a lot of money involved in the lamb job and it’s hard to compete when bidding on a tup,” said John. “Since we swapped from selling lambs to selling shearlings, the management of the flock has become 10 times easier – from lambing down to the production of sale tups and everything in between. We’re finding they’re a lot more active and weren’t phased at all during the hot summer or even during the wet spring.”

By breeding using embryo transfer and AI, John and Emma have opened up a new market with their MV-accredited Suffolk cross Mule and Bluefaced Leicester cross Texel females they use at home as well as sell privately to fellow breeders to use as recipients.

“We’d been buying all our MV-accredited commercial females out of Ireland but the plan is to be self-sufficient. There’s a real problem with Meadi Visna around in this here so by breeding MV-accredited females we hope to break in to a growing market,” commented John.

The Scottish Farmer:

      Some of the first batch of gimmers to be sold at an in-lamb sale

These make up the 320-strong commercial flock that summers on a further 120 acres of rented ground while the resulting wedder lambs are finished on farm and sold from the beginning of September onwards. The first batch of fat lambs of 2018 sold at the start of the month to average £89 at a weight of 45kg, and John notes lambs are bigger this year but are lacking in flesh-cover compared to previous years. The Texel crosses are worth a bit too, having reaching £106 at market in June last year.

With all eyes on the pheasants during the summer, the family has little time to show their sheep but have celebrated success at Border Union over the last few years, taking a number of top tickets in the shearling class with entries that went on to top their pen at Kelso Ram Sales. 
These winning moments were to be enjoyed following a very harsh winter and spring, of which the Greens have never seen before. 

“That’s been the worst weather pattern we’ve ever seen – we had just started lambing 115 ewes when the Beast from the East arrived, then it snowed when the pedigree lambs were turned out,” said John, adding fly strike been a more recent challenge in the commercial flock. 

The challenges continue as the family looks ahead to the future of the breed and the uncertainty about the future of farming following Brexit. The only competition to the Texel as a terminal sire is the Beltex which are currently small but are getting bigger and better, so as long as Texel breeders keep the size and shape about their sheep the Texel should keep its lead. It’s all about carcase and conformation, and nothing can touch the Texel for that,” pointed out John, adding he’s temped to cover the bottom end of his Texel females with Beltex sires to produce cross-bred rams to meet the shearling market. 

The Scottish Farmer:

     Some of the shearlings heading to Kelso

“If you have good stock you’ll always sell that stock well, but you’ve got to be in the top 10% to be able to do so. We had no single farm payment entitlement when we came here which is why we had to diversify in to pheasant rearing and renting out the ground for Christmas trees, but you just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. But farming has been not been easy over the last few years – you’ve got to keep improving and becoming more efficient as it’s really all about the way of life and not the money, deep down we all enjoy what we do,” he added. 

There’s no doom and gloom about the Texel flock at The Craggs, however, as the Greenall team plan to increase ewe numbers in order to hit their target of 100 shearling rams sold each year and hope to meet the in-lamb gimmer sales with 12 on offer at a sale at Carlisle in December.