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The 2017 winner of the AHDB Beef & Lamb Better Returns Programme Improved Flock Award for Texel sheep is the Stonebridge flock owned by Steve Richardson, at Mount Pleasant Farm, Barnsley. This award is presented to the English Signet performance recorded flock that makes the greatest improvement in the breeding potential of the lamb crop during the previous year.

The AHDB Better Returns Programme aims to highlight the financial impact that improved breeding and better lamb selection strategies can have on commercial flock profitability.

This award seeks to reward those breeders that are using Estimated Breeding Values to enhance the performance of their flocks and assist them to promote their achievement. The impact of performance recorded stock is significant and is increasing every year because of the activities of progressive farmers.

Steve has been at Mount Pleasant Farm for the past 32 years. They farm 350 acres and as well as their pedigree Texel flock they have 200 breeding sows. They breed and fatten all the progeny from the pig enterprise, feeding them off of grain produced on the farm that is also milled and mixed on site.

The Texel flock had originally began as a hobby 26 years ago, however they are now a large part of the business and have led Steve to become the current Vice Chairman of the Texel Society. As a pig farmer, Steve was originally attracted to the breed due to their meatiness and conformation. The Stonebridge flock currently have 30 breeding pedigree females as well as a cross bred recipient ewe flock used to hold the embryos from the 3 – 4 selected ewes that are flushed each year. At Stonebridge they breed their own replacements and also occasionally buy in quality blood lines.

Steve began performance recording in 2010 – he was already interested in the programme as they record performance within the pig enterprise so it was a natural progression to start collecting figures for the Texel sheep. Steve concentrates highly on growth rate as an EBV selection as he believes it is important to genetically increase growth rate instead of those caused by increased levels of feeding. He also says that he actively selects on positive fat depth figures – to aid with easy finishing lambs. For his terminal sires he also considers the maternal traits such as easy lambing and mothering ability and is excited about the prospects that genomics can have on the breed.

The Stonebridge flock has built up a good customer following over the years from shearling ram buyers, with one family returning for 23 years. Steve takes a full pen to the Skipton Northern Area Texel Sale in September and also sells privately from home. Tup lambs are also sold through Carlisle and Lanark Markets, with their top price of 9,500gns for Stonebridge Tiger in 2012.

Steve believes that he won the Improved Flock Award this year due to his choice of sire, a large proportion of his lambs in 2016 went to Newbie Mains Winston (GLD1501200), a new stock ram shared between three other flocks. He had a “tremendous skin and carcase” and the lambs which have come through from him have shown extensive growth rates and excellent carcass composition.

Looking forward Steve aims to continue breeding big, tight skinned, easy growing shearlings for the commercial buyer, with the emphasis continually being made on the carcass quality and composition. He would like to thank his son Adam and all the other staff at Mount Pleasant Farm for all their hard work which has contributed to them winning this Award.

EBVs for Newbie Mains Winston

The chart shows that ‘Winston’ was considerably higher than average on all conformation traits, showing he has excellent growth rate and levels of muscle and fat.

The benchmarks for the National Texel flock places Winston within the Top 1% of the breed in 2016.