Jumping into a new breed, receiving 20,000gns for a shearling, securing the champion Beltex with a home-bred gimmer at the Royal Highland Showcase last year and then the reserve male ticket at the Royal Highland Show this year has been the highlight for Beltex breeder, Alan Miller of the Lurg flock, Midmar, Inverurie.

Having previously bred Border Leicester and moving into cross sheep and half breeds in 2005, Alan made the conscious decision to invest in pedigree Beltex sheep in 2018 after being persuaded to buy gimmers by his children Ellie, Seth and Summer.

For all our photographs for Lurg Beltex check out our photo sales here

“We were breeding Beltex commercially for the carcase lamb competitions at the shows so it was an easy transition to make,” said Alan.

“It requires just as much time and effort to bring a commercial sheep out for shows as it does a pedigree one. I wanted to make the most out of my efforts and I felt that the Beltex breed was the way forward with the main reason being their demand in the commercial market,” said Alan, who along with the 25 pure ewe flock is part of the family business, Miller Plant Ltd.

“As a new breeder, everyone has been very welcoming and encouraging. It really doesn’t matter who you are in the Beltex breed, if you have a decent sheep, it will make the right money,” said Alan, who purchased three gimmers at the annual Beauties female sale in August 2018 at Carlisle.

These foundation females came from Stuart Wood of the Woodies flock, Wade and Alison McCrabb of Ardstewart and Jock McMillian’s Clary flock. All of which have bred well for the flock having left some strong lambs in the last few years, with the first lamb bred from the Woodies gimmer having gone on to make 5000gns Lurg Ella as a gimmer at the Carlisle Premier Sale in 2020, selling to Alfie Taylor and Gordon Harrison.

“We are trying to breed our own and make a real stamp in the flock, but we will occasionally buy in additional females to get improved bloodlines into the flock,” said Alan, with all ewe lambs retained in the flock until gimmers. Any lambs not kept for breeding will be sold through the prime ring at the Thainstone market.

“We have a strict culling policy, we wouldn’t want to sell anything we wouldn’t breed with ourselves, and we only keep the best of bloodlines to always improve the flock,” he added, with this being the first year Alan has been asked to be a guest consigner for the Beltex Beauties Sale, so he will have some of his best gimmers on offer come August 26.

“However, our main aim of the flock is to get a good strong pen of shearlings annually for Carlisle Premier Sale,” said Alan.

Alan aims to take a pen of 10 shearlings and four ram lambs down to Carlisle, with the same number heading to Lanark and the remainder being sold through Thainstone. Having just built up his numbers, this year will be the most the Lurg flock have sold.

Having only been in the breed for four years, Alan has certainly made his mark when he received a top price of 20,000gns from Gerwyn Jones for Tullylagan FairFax at Carlisle last year, with his pen of eight shearlings cashing in at an average of £4392. This shearling was bought as a ram lamb from Lanark for 1000gns.

For all our photographs for Lurg Beltex check out our photo sales here

“I bought a few lambs to turn over as I didn’t have many ram lambs that year, just to give me a few more options for a strong pen for Carlisle. I have just seen something in this lamb and I took a chance on him, thankfully it worked.”

“There is a high demand for the breed down at the Carlisle premier sale, last year at Carlisle a total of 1064 sheep changed hands over the two days to average £1385 and that is something breeders should be proud of,” said Alan, who is hoping to meet a strong trade this year due to the increased cost of producing the tups.

“Every cost on the farm has risen and as a seller, I would be hoping to cover these costs of producing the sheep. I can only make the best job I possibly can and just have to hope the end product is there and we know it is going to be tough for the buyers as well,” he added.

This year’s pens are all home-bred and a few will be the first crop of sons from the new stock tup, Woodies Explosive, a Carlisle 2020 16,000gns purchase.

When selecting a stock ram Alan is looking for: “I need something that is very correct, being good on its legs with a good mouth, top and end – easier said than done! There needs to be a bit of size and power in him, and confirmation is a high factor too.”

On the female front, it is all flushing and embryo work by AB Europe to produce the best of lambs from a limited number of Beltex ewes. Two of the main lines in the flock currently are Woodies Classy Girl and Sinclairs Daisy, they have been the best breeding ewes for me so far. We invested in a couple of gimmers last year from Buckles and Airyolland so looking forward to flushing them.

“By flushing the best of ewes, I am able to keep fewer pure sheep on the farm but not reducing the quality of the flock and getting a good number of lambs on the ground for selection,” said Alan, with there being two batches of embryos one lambing at the end of January and the other the beginning of March.

“We flush the same ewes twice and put them to different rams, since we are aiming for the shearling market, we don’t find having later lambs a problem. We are able to manage numbers a lot better and it spreads out lambing.”

Ewe and tup hoggs are outwintered on 60 acres of fodder crop to keep the lambs growing, Alan never wants his stock to be standing still.

Prior to sale time, the shearlings will be fed a Harbro Kelso tup and lamb nut to help them grow and flesh well and the ram lambs are fed Norvites Tup Master Mix.

“They seem to get the final sale polish and don’t get too fat which is of high importance to me. They need to be fit and ready to work come sale time. To keep them in good condition we will tend to ease them off feeding to ensure they don’t go on to melt with their buyers!” said Alan, with the sale team also being fed a fodder crop of Typhon and Fodder rape eight weeks prior to the sale to add a condition. Alan has received advice from sheep experts over the years, two breeders in the Border Leicester breed that Alan learnt from were Sydney Rose and John Bell. “A saying from them both was you should always try and get your sheep at 12 o’clock on sale day. Again, easier said than done, but these guys were masters at it.”

“Remembering the commercial attributes of the breed is so important, it is the main reason the Beltex breed is so popular.

“If we can keep appealing to the commercial buyers the breed has a strong future. As a breed we need to continue to emphasise the size and mobility of the sheep but keep that quality of carcase, it is a very hard balance to find. Beltex has definitely improved since first being imported and can be crossed with any ewe to produce a strong lamb.

“The Beltex is a terminal sire breed which is sought after for its double-muscle and the hindquarters which are its outstanding feature. The high heritability of these traits ensures that the Beltex cross lamb yields a high killing-out percentage from a fine-boned carcase with full gigots, good eye-muscle, meaty shoulder and a long loin, making it a premium product for the home and export markets.”

“Beltex can be crossed with any breed to improve the carcase quality of the lamb crop as well as the flock profit margins. Commercial buyers rave about easy lambing and the vitality of the Beltex cross lambs which minimise labour at lambing time. The Beltex also commands a premium when the lambs are sold. Butchers like the extra volume of saleable meat that can be had from Beltex cross lamb and exporters just can’t enough Beltex cross for their customers in Europe,” said Alan.

On the show front, local shows – Echt and Turriff – are always a key date in the calendar along with the Beltex National Show and the Royal Highland Show.

This year was just the second year showing Beltex at Ingliston and Alan secured the reserve male champion with his home-bred January-born embryo ram lamb, which was sired by the 30,000gns Buckles Darkdawn.

The team have previously bagged the reserve commercial sheep champion in 2016, having exhibited sheep for many years.

So, make sure to keep an eye out for the Lurg pen this show and sale season…

Farm Facts

Involvement: Alan takes to the sheep enterprise along with his daughter, Ellie who is now running her own small flock Ellies, Alan's brother, Ian attends to the cattle, and their father Frank does all the tractor work on the farm and Alan's wife, Rachel attends to all the paperwork.

Main enterprise: Miller Plant Ltd, an Earthworks and Quarrying Contractor which the farm is run.

History: The family have owned the farm since 1976

Livestock numbers: 25 Beltex ewes and 150 recipient ewes for flushing, 25 Pedigree Limousin Cows.

Acreage: 350 acres.

On-the-spot questions

Best investment: The current stock tup, Woodies Explosive.

Best advice: Listen to other more experienced breeders who are at the top of their game Biggest achievement:and don’t be afraid to ask them questions.

Selling Tullylagan FairFax for 20,000gns.

Where do you see yourself in 2032? I would like to think there is still a good market for Beltex sheep, and that we are still producing strong sheep to go on and do well for the commercial market.

For all our photographs for Lurg Beltex check out our photo sales here