Beltex proves to be the right choice

Ahead of Agri-Expo, Angela Calvert visits Lanark farmer Andrew Baillie to see how his preparations are getting under way for this year’s event.

The date for Agri-Expo is firmly fixed on Andrew Baillie’s calendar as he regards it as one of the highlights of his showing year. He has enjoyed tre-mendous success there in the past, in both the butcher’s lamb and hill sheep sections, and preparations are under way to take a strong team of lambs to this year’s event.

Andrew is based in Carstairs Main, Carstairs, near Lanark, where he moved just 18 months ago with wife, Jennifer, and children, Rachel, seven, and Cameron, five. One of five brothers he grew up on the family’s Calla Farm, at near by Carnwath. In a move to start on his own five years ago he took on a rented hill farm, before buying his current base. Although the brothers are developing their own businesses, they still work closely together with their enterprises complementing each other.

Carstairs Main is 290 hectares (650 acres), of which 102ha (250 acres) are arable growing mainly spring barley, winter wheat and fodder beet, most of which is fed back to the cattle. The land work is done by Andrew’s brother, Peter, who is a contractor, leaving Andrew free to concentrate on the stock.

The suckler herd comprises of 100 spring calving Limousin and Hereford cross cows, which are put to Limousin and British Blue bulls. Heifers are currently being retained to build up herd numbers and all the bull calves are finished and sold deadweight to Scotbeef.

Andrew also rears black and white bulls which are bought from his dairy farmer brother, William, when weaned at eight weeks. These are finished from 10-12 months, at 550-600kg and again go to Scotbeef.

 

Farm facts

  • 290 hectare (650 acres) - 102ha (250 acres) arable growing spring barley, wheat and fodder beet. Cereals and straw used for cattle
  • Remainder grass - 40ha (100 acres) of silage grown
  • 100 Limousin and Hereford cross suckler cows
  • Heifers retained for breeding, bulls finished on-farm to 650kg and sold deadweight
  • Bought in black and white bull calves finished at 10-12 months and sold deadweight. All EID tagged and weighed regularly to monitor progress
  • Fattening cattle fed a home mixed ration of barley and protein blend ad lib
  • Cows winter inside on maintenance diet of straw and silage

Cattle enterprises

Andrew says: “The two cattle enterprises work well together and it means we always have cattle to sell as the home-bred bulls are usually ready in April and May, but we take the black and white calves all year round. So they are good for cash flow. When we started with them cereals were cheaper, but fortunately, even though cereals prices have gone up so have beef prices, so we are still able to make money out of them, but it’s all about managing them properly and paying attention to detail.”

The sheep enterprise is made up of 100-Beltex, 50-Texel and 50 cross-bred ewes. When And-rew came to the farm he brought with him some Hill Cheviots, but these are being phased out and soon all the crosses will be Beltex/Texel.

Andrew bought his first Beltex in 1997 while still working at the home farm. He explains why: “I was very impressed with them right from the start. They have superb conformation and a great killing out percentage, and I thought they were the breed for the future, which has proved to be the case. They are what the butchers want and are worth a £10 premium over other lambs.”

A mix of home-bred and bought in rams are used. Last year, a Beltex, Clary Prankster, was bought as a lamb at Carlisle, from Jock McMillan, in partnership with Richard Wood and Alan Taylor. His progeny has proved to be very successful both in the show and sale ring, and the partnership is looking forward to showing him next year.

The best pedigree rams are sold at Carlisle and Lanark. This year’s top price was 2,200gns, with 42 rams averaging 720gns including cross-breds. Andrew says: “I was happy with that. Fat lambs have been a good trade, which impacts on what commercial producers will pay for a tup and they are now starting to see the benefit of buying better class rams.”

The pedigree ewes lamb in February and the cross-breds March/April - all staying out with no concentrate feed until lambing. They are turned out again as soon as possible and the pure-bred lambs creep fed until the grass comes. AI is used on most of the pedigrees, mainly to keep lambing tight for ease of management and in the case of shared rams, to enable them to be split between the owners.

The Texels are mainly kept for crossing and Andrew believes the ideal show lamb is usually three quarters Beltex, one quarter Texel. Although he does keep a few Millennium Blue lambs (Beltex cross Bleu de Maine) because he believes the Bleu de Maine brings in good maternal traits.

 

Sheep

  • 100-Beltex, 50-Texel and 50 cross-bred
  • AI used on most of flock
  • Breeding stock sold at pedigree sales, surplus lambs finished and sold to local butcher
  • 42 rams sold this year, averaging 720gns

Conformation

“I am always concentrating on breeding lambs with a good carcase and conformation,” says Andrew. “They have to look good, particularly to catch the judge’s eye, in terms of show lambs, but they must be correct and I am also focusing on good legs and mouths.”

Although not performance recording at the moment Andrew plans to start in the near future. “I do intend to start recording and I think it will help to sell rams. It is becoming apparent, particularly at Kelso this year, the demand for recorded rams is there from commercial producers, but I think it is perhaps more relevant to some of the other breeds where they are looking for growth rates for early finishing.

“I would never buy on figures alone and you can’t judge a Beltex without handling it. One of the great things about the Beltex is the killing out percentage, which is partly down to them being fine boned. This also makes for easy lambing, providing you manage them properly. Plus, the lambs get up and go.

“Since they were first introduced to the UK Beltex have been improved and adapted to what we want. They are more mobile and more correct than they were, but with all sheep it depends what you are wanting to breed and where you want to sell. Different sales demand different types of sheep.”

All lambs not sold for breeding are finished off grass to about 45kg and sold to the local Overton Farm Butchery. Andrew says: “They are happy to take all my lambs and will pay me a premium for them because they know they will be getting what they want. We will also take some to the Christmas Fatstock Show and one or two other winter fairs, as well as a few summer shows.”

Three show pairs

Andrew has entered three pairs of lambs for Agri-Expo. For the hill section he will take a pair of Blackface, which will be selected from his parent’s farm and in the continental section will have a pair of Beltex crosses and a pair of Millennium Blues. A batch of potential show lambs for Agri-Expo are selected a few weeks before with the final choices being made closer to the event. Andrew says: “I think we have some good lambs, but if you go to a show thinking you are going to win you are often disappointed.

“I enjoy Agri-Expo anyway, it’s a great shop window and can help sell your stock, but it is also a very social event where it’s good to catch up with people you haven’t seen for a long time.”

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