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Corrieclave TexelThe Corriecravie flock, owned by Paul and Anna Johnson based in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, has been recognised by AHDB Beef and Lamb as the Most Improved Flock of Texel sheep in England for 2015.

The award is presented by the AHDB Beef and Lamb Better Returns Programme (BRP) to the recorded flock that shows the greatest genetic gain for commercial characteristics over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of ten UK breeds.

“Having successfully shown cattle at Christmas prime stock shows for many years and with a small herd of pedigree Limousins at home, in order to become a carcase producer in the sheep world I was interested in the Texel,” Paul said.

With a commercial flock based on the Welsh Halfbred, they went to the Texel female sale at Chelford in the spring of 1988, just to have a look, and came home with four ewe hoggs from Hullhouse and two in-lamb gimmers from the Sportsman’s flock. Another trip that autumn added shearling High Tor Ringleader and, most importantly, the Glenside Popstar daughter BGS87 073, known forever since as Dolores.

From the start they considered carcase and mobility to be key traits for selection within the pedigree Texel flock. They used stock rams across the commercial flock providing important feedback on carcase quality when lambs were butchered for private freezer customers.

“In 2000 I judged the Aberdeen Texel sale and bought my Female Champion SIC00 030, known as Mrs Sinclair. She proved to be a significant purchase,” Paul said.

The Corriecravie flock was caught up in a contiguous cull during the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak by which time almost half the pedigree ewes were descendents through the female line from Dolores.

All the tups, ewes and their 2001 born lambs were lost to the cull, but by chance Mrs Sinclair, along with 26 pedigree and six crossbred ewe hoggs were wintering half a mile from home.

Rebuilding the flock post FMD

Restocking after Foot and Mouth he bought big, rangy females from Steve and Carolynne Williams’ Wollascott flock in 2001 and 2002 with others from Aberdeenshire in lamb to a number of sires.

“I purchased Haddo Hope and Glory, by Muiresk Forever, unseen in the flesh from the 2001 Aberdeen video sale and while figures were not a consideration at this time, it was pleasing to find in due course that he was well up with his breeding values. Fourteen years on, he remains well above today’s breed average for his Terminal Index.”

With the disruption caused by the Foot and Mouth outbreak Paul decided to safeguard the genetics and stored semen from him.

The 2002 purchases from Steve and Carolynne Williams remained at Wollascott to be inseminated using semen from Muiresk Forever with the intention of re-establishing some flock type. With his son, Haddo Hope and Glory, already at home and after seeing the big, stylish Forever at that year’s Highland Show, Paul was keen to develop this line for Corriecravie. Wollascott ewes included WSW01 073, by Ballaglonney Dan Dare, who established another important female line through her Forever daughter JTC03 010.

Using technology to advance quickly

Paul decided to start Signet Recording in 2002, wishing to progress the ewes sourced from a number of different flocks which included Mrs Sinclair and the homebred 2000-born ewes which had escaped the cull.

“I hoped that recording would help to speed up the selection process, identifying important female lines and, provided the figures proved good enough, offer a significant marketing tool,” Paul stated.

“Other commercial flock masters were also restocking after Foot and Mouth and internet use had increased through necessity. It became evident that they were more interested in performance figures for rams available, and through the internet it became possible for customers to study traits for individual sheep ahead of the sales.”

In 2003 Cambwell J-Normous was purchased for Corriecravie. He had led the ram lambs at the Texel Sire Reference Scheme’s annual selection day; he was the first serious purchase made with figures in mind for the Johnson’s.

“Haddo Knox Again was used on J-Normous daughters and in 2008 Cambwell Onich joined the flock, the best carcase sheep I have ever bought, he was full of flesh everywhere, as a Texel should be,” Paul said.

Paul bought Connachan Rooster Cogburn in 2010, an unrecorded tup, with size and full of breed character. Like Haddo Hope and Glory before him his figures were to support the stockman’s choice!

Persuaded by his brother-in-law, Paul tried some Embryo Transfer work with embryos from JTC07 260 (WSW01 073 line) and at the same time inseminated four gimmers with Livery Predator semen in the hope of breeding females for the long-term future of the flock. One of the resulting ewe lambs was JTC11 00134 (Dolores line).

Currently with an EBV of 409 JTC11 00134 has herself been flushed twice to Baltier Panther and tupped naturally by stock rams. The first flush from this ewe produced Corriecravie Union Pacific and Corriecravie Unleashed and five ewe lambs.

Union Pacific was used at home as a lamb in 2013 and it is his lambs which have produced a significant lift in the flock’s average breeding values.

Corriecravie Union Pacific and Corriecravie Unleashed have been used to produce the 2015 crop of lambs with Knock Vanquish II, purchased at Lanark, as an alternative for related females.

Semen was sold from both Union Pacific and Unleashed in 2014 into recorded and non-recorded flocks and Paul awaits news of these lambs with interest.

Focusing on individual traits for the commercial producer

“All individual breeding traits are important but the Texel is primarily a meat producing breed.

“I advise customers to look at the 20 week scan weight and muscle depth if their aim is to get well fleshed prime lambs away quickly. We have seen consistent improvements in these traits within the Corriecravie flock,” said Paul.

In 2007 markets were disrupted by Blue Tongue, before Paul was selling up to 20 ram lambs each year. Since then, occasional lambs are sold from home, but Paul now concentrates on the shearling trade through the NSA Ram Sales at Builth Wells, as well as supporting local markets and private sales.

“Concentrating on the shearling market allows me to lamb in March; lambs are offered creep feed until their 20 week scan and then it is stopped.”

Homebred shearling Corriecravie Tiree won first prize Signet recorded ram and Reserve Overall Champion at the main NSA Ram Sale at Builth Wells in 2013. Females are mainly sold privately from home. Older ewes, a few gimmers and a few ewe lambs are sold but the majority of gimmers are retained and kept as replacements for their young flock.

“Exceptional ewes never leave!” Paul added.

“Dolores was nearly 14 and Mrs Sinclairs’ daughter JTC02 058 was 12 when she was finally put down at home.”

“What is so pleasing about this award is that the flock’s EBVs were already above average for the Texel breed. It has been won with 25 years of Corriecravie breeding on the female side back to Dolores through her descendant Corriecravie Union Pacific,” he concludes.

Commenting on the win, Signet Breeding Services Manager Sam Boon said: “Rates of genetic improvement in Signet recorded flocks are at an all-time high. The difference between the best high EBV breeding stock and average animals is increasing year on year.

“This means commercial producers have more to gain when investing in rams with superior genetics. Pedigree breeders can capitalise on these differences too and this is exactly what Paul and Anna have done. The improvement in the genetic merit of their flock is clear and they are to be congratulated on their achievement.”