Martin Kennedy, Lurgan Farm Aberfeldy, Perthshire
For conformation and the best value for your product, I don’t think you can beat Beltex cross lambs
Producing what the market wants is Martin Kennedy’s motto at Lurgan Farm, Aberfeldy, and for him that means using a Beltex tup on to predominantly Beltex cross Bleu du Maine females, resulting in premium quality prime lambs.
“For conformation and the best value for your product, I don’t think you can beat Beltex cross lambs. I’ve always felt that if you produce what the market wants, then you’ll get the trade you want, so that’s what I strive to do,” explained Martin, who is based at Lurgan, on Edradynate Estate, with his wife Jane and daughters Jillian, Katrina and Yvonne.
Having been brought up on the neighbouring farm, which his brother still farms, Martin grasped the opportunity to rent Lurgan Farm in 1996, and introduced the Beltex breed to the flock 12 years ago. The family now run 300 mainly Beltex cross ewes, along with a further 300 Blackface and Cheviot ewes, and a 35-strong suckler cow herd. “The majority of the ground is heather hill, which is more suited to the hill breeds, and we have roughly 100 acres which we can cut hay and silage off – weather permitting! The stock we have suits our system and the type of ground we have, and for the prime lamb job, I’ve found we can always get a premium for Beltex cross lambs.
“With the cross flock, the Beltex cross Bleu du Maine ewes have everything that we’re looking for in a female – they are milky and can produce the correct size lamb for the market that’s not too fat, so you’re left with a good lamb to sell and ideal replacement females too. We’ve also now got two Millennium Bleu tups, which we’ve put some Cheviots and cross ewes to – we’ve been really pleased with them, especially for producing breeding females,” explained Martin, who runs a closed flock – the last females he bought in were Cheviot ewe lambs from Lairg back in 2000 and 2001. The same policy works with the cattle, which are put to the Limousin bull (10-year-old Spittalton Ullapool) to produce calves sold as stores, while a home-bred British Blue cross bull is used to breed heifer replacements.
On the steading, a polytunnel built to hurricane specification does the job of a lambing shed, firstly for the cross sheep from March 20th, followed by the Cheviot twins, while the Blackies all lamb outside. “We’ve had the polytunnel for five years and it’s been great; before that we lambed most of them outside. The crosses with twins are still left outside, but we bring in the gimmers, triplets and singles, which are put back out as soon as possible,” said Martin.
The majority of the Beltex cross lambs are fattened, straight off grass and sold from the end of September onwards, at 40-44kg. The remainder, along with some Cheviot and Blackie lambs, go away to better grass for a few weeks and when they come home, those which are not quite ready to go are finished off in the tunnel on pellets and silage. The last batch sold in 2013, at the hogmanay sale at Caledonian Marts, Stirling, averaged 235p per kg.
Since moving to Caledonian Marts, Lurgan-bred lambs have regularly been amongst the top price lambs, the dearest ones so far being the champion pen in 2011 at the Christmas show and sale which realised £170.
Each year, Martin also keeps out a pen of 50 lambs to sell as stores, at the Cally’s Martinmas show and sale in December, where he often picks up one of the top tickets on offer. They sold particularly well in 2011, with the first pen of 25 at 35kg reaching £104 a head, and the second pen at 33kg fetching £99.50 each. In 2013, they were sold as a pen of 50, collecting the reserve champion ticket and making £85.50/head.
All the home-bred ewe lambs, including the Cheviots and Blackies, are wintered at Inverkeilor, on the East coast, which takes the pressure off the ground at home in the winter. “When the hoggs are brought back home, I’ve learned that it’s important to get them eating as soon as possible, as there is nothing worse than a gimmer that will not eat the following winter, so they are all held quite tight until they are all eating. They’re all dosed and jagged, and given a pour-on for tick, and the Blackie hoggs are then put out to the hill with the ewes,” said Martin. “With the in-lamb ewes, we normally start feeding them a bit at the end of November, just to make sure they’re keeping a wee bit of condition all the time. This year, however, with the milder winter, we didn’t start feeding them until well into January. They get 1/3lb of BOCM’s 18% protein Ewbol feeding, fed with the snacker, which means I can check the condition of the ewes regularly, and give them more if I think they need it,” he added.
Martin is an advocate of selling the best lambs through the live ring, and believes that is the only way of bringing the deadweight price up. And while he admits the Beltex may not be as prolific as some other breeds, he feels the superior quality end product more than makes up for that. “The bottom line is what we’re putting through the ring, and with the better conformation of the Beltex lambs, you will always get a premium price. They are definitely later maturing, which may not suit every system, especially if you want lambs away early, but it certainly suits ours. “I’m also a big fan of continental-bred lamb – if it’s hung for a week and cooked properly, I don’t think you can beat it for taste,” said Martin, who in fact has built up a growing customer base for Lurgan-bred lamb, with 40 on order for this year. They are killed at Dunblane, before being butchered and vacuum packed at Highland Drovers.
The quality of this home-produced lamb was demonstrated at its best at the Scottish Premier Meat Exhibition in 2012, when Martin and Jane took the reserve overall championship in the lambs with a Beltex cross weighing 20.5kg deadweight, which killed out at just over 50%, and had a grade of E3L. It was by Balig Lancelot, but more often than not, Beltex tups are bought from Jimmy Taylor, Easter Ochtermuthill, at Stirling or Carlisle sales.
“When I’m picking a tup, I don’t necessarily go for the biggest ones, but I look for good conformation, and they have to be good on their legs. Because we breed our own replacements, I’m always looking for one that has the potential to breed good females too.
“Although our main business is producing fat lambs, it’s important to me that I like the look of what we’re breeding, and the Beltex breed can deliver the level of quality that we’re aiming for,” added Martin.