Sale season in full swing at Springhill Texels

Last Saturday marked the beginning of the Texel pedigree sale season in Northern Ireland with the breed’s ‘Premier’ event taking place in Ballymena. The Foster family, from Ardstraw in Co Tyrone, are owners of the renowned Springhill flock with a history stretching back thirty two years.

“We had a good day in Ballymena,” confirmed Graham Foster. “A ram lamb sold to 2,500gns with a shearling ram making 1,400gns in the ring,” confirmed Graham Foster.

“We are also taking part in Scotland’s Premier Texel Sale at Lanark. This is the first time in twenty years that we have taken sheep to that event.”

The Fosters are also no strangers to success in the show ring. Back in June one of their senior stock rams, Ballydesland Thunder King, won the Texel championship at Omagh Show.

By common consent, the flock name Springhill is synonymous with the highest standards of both pedigree Texel and Charollais sheep breeding. The Foster family – John, his wife Helga, plus sons Graham and Robbie in tandem with daughter Alice – run a 320 strong ewe flock along with a 240-cow dairy herd.

“The Texel flock comprises 100 ewes,” Graham explained. “All are crossed with pedigree Texel tips with 15 ewes flushed annually to produce embryos. In tandem with this we run a pedigree Charollais flock of 30 purebred ewes. Half of these are crossed with elite Charollais tips. The remainder are served on a 1:1 basis with Texel and Beltex rams. There is a growing demand within the lowland sheep sector for high quality crossbred Charollais tip, with the capability of producing elite lambs having high levels of crossbred vigour.

“There are 190 crossbred ewes on the farm. Some of these sheep are used as recipient mothers for the embryos produced from our Texel sheep.”

The Fosters won the UK Texel Champion Flock of the Year competition in 2014. This built on their Northern Ireland Flock of the year accolades, secured in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. And all of this quality has been reflected in the prices paid for Springhill breeding stock in the sale ring.

The Fosters secured the top price of 5,600gns at the Ballymena National Texel Sale last year, with their shearling ram Springhill Uppercut. Their ram lamb, Springhill V-Tech made 4,500gns at the same event.

“Most of the Springhill stock is sold at our own male and female sales, which are held in Omagh mart during September and December respectively each year,” Graham commented.

But the Fosters fully recognise the need to complement the highest standards of breeding excellence with comparable management skills. In this latter regard the ewes and lambs are handled regularly from both a worming and general husbandry perspective throughout the spring, summer and autumn months.”

“Every time the sheep are brought into the yard, for whatever purpose, we will run them through the foot bath,” Graham explained.

“This means that during the period while the lambs are with the ewes, the animals will be foot bathed on an almost fortnightly basis.

“It’s an approach which ensures that prevention is better than cure, from a hoof health perspective. In the odd case when a specific foot problem is noticed the animal in question will have its hooves paired and an antibiotic spray applied. But before returning to the field the treated animals will be held on concrete for one hour.”

The Fosters have traditionally used Hoofsure Endurance, from Provita, as their active foot bath chemical of choice.

“We use a concentration level of 2% in the bath, which is filled to a depth of three inches,” confirmed Graham.

“This approach has worked extremely well for us. We make sure that each animal is well footbathed. After they leave the bath, all animals are kept standing on a concrete surface for around 30 minutes, before returning to pasture.

“What we particularly like about Hoofsure Endurance is the fact that it is not sore on young lambs. This cannot be said for other foot bath products that are currently on the market.”

Provita’s Tommy Armstrong was a recent visitor to the Foster farm. He confirmed that a concentration level of 2% is the recommended dilution rate for Hoofsure Endurance.

“We recommend that animals are allowed to stand on concrete for a period of time after passing through the footbath. It is also recommended that they be put out on to fresh pasture directly after foot bathing.”