By Kelly Henaughen

Photographs by Rob Haining

YOU wouldn’t need to be discussing Texel sheep from the South-west of Scotland very long before the name Douganhill came up and the MacTaggart family, from that unit near Palnackie, Castle Douglas, have had some year so far!

The family, Brian and his wife, Janice and their son David and his wife, Vicki, have been backing the breed since 1982 and they’ve been reaping the rewards at shows and sales.

From their 1450-acre farm they have shown at only three shows this summer – the Royal Highland, Stewartry and Dumfries – and not only have the won each of the Texel sections, they’ve then gone on to win the three overall inter-breeds and they have done this impressive hat-trick with three different gimmers.

“I first saw Texel cross store lambs at the market at Castle Douglas many years ago and thought, ‘I quite like the look of them’,” said Brian, who has been farm manager at Douganhill for the last 41 years.

“So, I bought Texel tups for fat lambs in 1981 and was that impressed with them and their offspring, that I went back the next year and bought females, and I suppose that was that!

“I love the size and shape of the Texel. Their vigour is second to none. I also think that Texel cross females have their place as a commercial breeding ewe. They’re great mothers and have plenty of milk.”

Brian and Janice live at Orchardton, part of Douganhill Farms, which is part of the Weatherall Scott Trust.

Along with the Texel flock, Brian runs a herd of 200 suckler cattle, the progeny of which are sold store privately, at a year old, with some kept back for breeding.

“I’m actually bucking the trend a wee bit with the beef herd,” Brian explained, “and we’re going to be upping the numbers. We’ve upped our acreage slightly, so we’re going to invest in more cattle.”

There is also a flock of 500 Lairg-type North Country Cheviots – half kept pure and half put to a Bluefaced Leicester for Cheviot Mules. Some of the ewe lambs are kept and others are sold privately. Again, there are plans to increase the headage of the 150-head of Cheviot Mules. The family use 100 Cheviot Mules as recipients for flushing too.

Perhaps more unexpectedly, there are also 150 Herdwicks, out on the peninsula on the farm that looks out across the Solway.

On the Texel side of things, the team sell about 50 shearlings a year at Kelso, Carlisle and Castle Douglas. A few lambs – four this year, hopefully – are sold at Carlisle, to keep their name to the fore on that side of things.

This years’ shearling crop are mostly by Knock Yardsman, Teiglum Young Gun and Procter’s Abracadabra.

Young Gun has bred especially well for them on the female side of things, but a number of sires have left positive marks on the flock over the years. Brian named Turin Romeo, Annan Vigour, Milnbank Jersey Dudeck, Glenside King II, Cairnam Tavish and, more latterly, Teiglum Young Gun and Sportsmans Tremendous, as being the tups that have really done well for them.

As well as their show wins, they’ve been no strangers to success in the sale ring, with several five figure sales.

This was topped by the 48,000gns Douganhill Jeronimo, a lamb that sold to the Ridley family at Haltcliffe.

Douganhill Masterpiece sold to Procter’s Farms for 20,000gns, while the 12,000gns Douganhill Young Gun sold over the water to Northern Ireland.

“One of the lambs that we sold that I feel left his mark the most also went to Northern Ireland,” Brian told us, “and that was Douganhill McFly. He sold for 4000gns.”

Shearlings have sold to 10,000gns for one that was knocked down to Midlock and Scrogtonhead. Janice explained: “There was one really good year with the shearlings that we sold eight at Carlisle to average 3500gns –that was great. We get a lot of return customers as well, which is so important.”

Brian fully backed this, adding: “Definitely, you can sell what you like at big prices but if they don’t go on and do for folk and impress them, and hopefully get them looking in your pen again, then what’s the point?”

Brian admitted that, in the years he’s been in the breed, he’s seen changes – some good, some not so good.

“The breed has changed over the years since we first got involved,” he said. “There have been a lot of fashions over the years.

“Everything used to be focussed on wool and some just about have no wool now, which is a bit of a pet hate of mine, I must admit. There’s a fine line between a good tight fleece and no fleece at all.”

He continued: “A lot has changed for the better as well, though, even when the breed’s been faced with challenges. We came through foot-and-mouth, when a lot of good places had to restock and we came through genotyping for scrapie, when a lot of good sheep disappeared out of the breed.”

On the topic of recording figures, Brian clearly has mixed feelings. “We tried it, but I couldn’t really get to grips with it,” he explained.

“I felt like I was starting to breed the wrong type of sheep for me. I go for an easy-fleshed type. Using the figures and recording meant they were getting too big and too hard, and that’s not what I was wanting.

“I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it didn’t work for us. It should be there and used as a guide, as it’s meant to be. It definitely works for some people.”

Brian also considered flushing to be a useful tool, but he’s wary of overusing it. “It’s definitely brought the breed forward, but it also means that the genetic pool is getting smaller and smaller and that can make it hard to get and injection of something different into your sheep.”

He continued: “It’s a great quick way of improving females, though, but you just have to watch and not take it too far.”

Brian’s wife, Janice, is a big part of things and he’s the first to admit that he couldn’t do it without her.

Son, David works for the estate elsewhere but is on hand in the evenings and at the weekends to work at Douganhill. His wife, Vicki, is also involved and their two daughters, Chloe (11) and Kyla (six) are keen too and always on hand to keep papa right!

Brian and Janice’s daughter, Jennifer, is also heavily involved in the Texel breed. She’s married to Jeff Aiken, who is farm manager down at Procter’s Farms, based at Wennington, Lancaster, and alongside their kids, Katie and Robbie, they’re no strangers to show and sale success, either.

Katie won the inaugural young handlers inter-breed showing her Texel at this year’s Highland Show and young Robbie has been doing well showing his very own Border Leicesters and Brian admits that seeing all of his four grandchildren keen and doing well with their sheep is something he’s very proud of.

“I love seeing the next generation keen,” he told us. “David and Jennifer were involved from a young age and it’s great seeing their kids doing the same now too. We all help and support each other at shows so it’s a real family thing.”

The MacTaggarts have always been keen on shows, first with prime lambs at Smithfield and the Winter Fair, before getting into showing Texels at Dumfries, then at their most local, the Stewartry.

They first won Stewartry in 1987 and took their first red, white and blue rosette at Dumfries in 1991. The won the Texel section at Dumfries no fewer than 15 years in a row at one stage – no mean feat!

As much as they enjoy them, David is also practical about the benefits of the shows. He explained: “They’re free advertising. A shop window. If you get your name and a picture in the paper, that keeps your name in and folk, hopefully, come and give you a look at the sales.”

Until this year, the family hadn’t shown at the Highland for a number of years, but to say they went back with a bang wouldn’t be an exaggeration.

They returned to Ingliston after a 12-year absence with a home-bred gimmer and this AI daughter of the 70,000gns Teiglum Young Gun, bred from a ewe by Cairnam Tavish, took the breed championship before going on and winning the overall sheep title – only the third Texel ever to do so!

Brian told us: “We’d been showing at the Highland but had decided to take a break. We probably stopped for longer than we meant to, but I felt like we had a good run of gimmers this year and decided to put some entries in and to say I’m glad I did, would be an understatement.

“To win the inter-breed was just something else. We had won Texel section at the Highland in 1998 and 1999 with a beast called, Babycham, which was brilliant, but going one step further was a once in a lifetime.

“I’m happy when I don’t get sent back to my pen there – any ticket is a bonus – so it really was a great week for us.

“Winning the three inter-breeds at the three shows has been amazing. It’s been a very special year.

“It also helps that, as a breed, Texel folk are as friendly and sociable as you get, so as a family we’ve made some lifelong friendships through over the years and when you have these successes you feel like your friends are celebrating alongside you.”

Looking to the future, Brian admitted that retirement is probably looming, but that he’s trying not to think about that too much. For the breed, he’s confident they can stay the number one terminal sire.

“There’s no reason for the Texels not to stay at the level we’re at,” he explained.

David backed him on that: “Skins, carcases, being good on their legs and having a little bit of flash is key. That’s what we try to breed at home, and I think that’s what keeps the breed as a whole where it is.”

Brian has a strict culling policy, admitting that there are no second chances if something catches his eye for the wrong reason.

“You need to keep reinventing yourself. You’ve got to keep up and stay fresh, or you become old news, and that’s just not good,” he said.