“As you get on in years you learnthat it is very important to find a ewe that suits your system and requires minimal labour but still provides you with exceptional quality offspring”
James Bennett farms up to 900ft above sea level in Moher West near Mountrath in Co. Laois, with the help of his son Phillip. The Bennetts run an impressive mixed enterprise consisting of 170 Hilltex ewes, suckler cows, store cattle and a large area of planted forestry.
James previously ran mainly Cheviot ewes, while buying in full mouth horned ewes and mating them with Texel rams, taking one crop off them before fattening them and killing them along with the lambs in the summer time. “It was more by accident than anything I started using the Hilltex ewe. In 2011 I was short of replacements and decided to keep all the Texel ewe lambs out of the horned ewes. I was amazed by the way they performed in our system and haven’t looked back since with all ewes now Hilltex bred”
James started to buy his replacements 5 years ago at the annual sale in Ballinrobe and has been returning every year since. James spoke with great enthusiasm about the Hilltex ewes and plans to continue going to the sale in the future for all his replacements. Having been farming for over 50 years in Moher West he believes he has now found a perfect ewe for his system. “These ewes are constantly impressing me year on year. In my opinion they are the ideal maternal ewe, hardy and easy to keep, not too big allowing for higher stocking rates, docile to work with and as you get on in years you learn that it is very important to find a ewe that suits your system and requires minimal labour but still provides exceptional quality”
The ewes scanned very well this year. With an impressive 1.78 lambs per ewe joined with the ram. This was no surprise to James as he stated they were constantly achieving such scans. “This is one of my favourite things about the Hiltex ewes. They are a very fertile ewe producing plenty of lambs without the large numbers of triplets associated with other maternal breeds. I only let out the ram for 32 days and then take him away to reduce the lambing spread. I have only 3 barren ewes this year out of 172. I can’t complain about that”
Lambing usually starts on the 17th of March on Bennett’s farm, however, James made the decision to push that back until the 28th this year. Something he is very happy with following the terrible winter we just encountered. All lambing takes place outdoors, something that proves the Hilltex ewe processes superior mothering ability while carrying the great get up and go associated with the Texel breed through to her lambs. “I start feeding a small amount of meal 3 weeks before lambing. This will increase to 500g per head the week before lambing. This is to ensure adequate colostrum for lambs and give them the best chance to get going. The Hilltex ewes are generally very milky and require minimal assistance at lambing, two traits which are essential when lambing outdoors”.
James uses a mix of rams mainly Charolais and Beltex and finds they all cross very well on the Hilltex ewes. “I find these ewes are ideal to cross back to any terminal bred ram. We take all lambs to slaughter. The lambs readily achieve close to 50% killout and can be finished to suit several different markets. We kill the first lambs which finish at 41-42kg reaching the targeted 19-21kg carcass whilst frequently receiving a bonus for the lambs as they grade E’s and U’s. The superior grading lean carcass allows us to carry these lambs to heavier weights as the year goes on producing more muscle without the risk of them becoming overfat”.
James finished with some very positive feedback stating the longevity and economical value that is on offer from these ewes. “Some of the first Hilltex ewes I brought into the flock in 2011 are still going strong. They are very hardy, have good mouths and lovely correct and firm udders. It will be interesting to see how long they can last. Like myself, they are getting on in years, but aslong as they continue to produce the goods with minimal labour required there will be a place for them here and the Hilltex ewe will be in Moher West for the foreseeable future. Why fix what isn’t broken?”