The Irish Texel Sheep Society

History of Texels in Ireland

The Texel sheep breed originated in Holland and is named after Texel Island off the North Sea coast of Holland. From as far back as 1802 the Dutch Government developed breed improvement programmes for Texel sheep.

The Texel breed is now excelling worldwide. France introduced Texels in 1933 and has the oldest flock book outside Holland. There is now a tremendous demand for Texels in Canada, United States, New Zealand and Australia.

The first Texels were imported into Ireland by the Department of Agriculture in 1964. In view of their reputed prolificacy, some of the rams were crossed with native breeds (Scottish Blackface, Cheviot and Galway), to compare the resultant crossbred ewes with the then more traditional Border Leicester crosses. Other breeds were included in a large scale comparison of terminal sire breeds, conducted by the Agricultural Research Institute, in the production of slaughter lambs. It was this work that highlighted the breed's excellent carcass quality and, in particular, the high lean content and large eye muscle of the Texel cross carcasses. They were found to contain four per cent more lean meat and four per cent less fat than the average of the other sire breeds included in the comparison.

A further import of 100 Texels by the Department in 1972 from Texel Island had to be quarantined and tested on Department farms for fear of Maedi Visna. It was a further four years before they were given a clean bill of health and some of them were allocated to a number of interested breeders, who were selected by ballot. Each breeder was allowed to purchase four pedigree Texel ewes and a ram. These 15 breeders in conjunction with the Department of Agricultural Colleges, founded the Irish Texel Sheep Society in 1976. With the assistance of Department officials, these foundation members drafted a set of rules and constitution for running the Society. Six of these foundation flocks are still in existence today. The society was set up at a meeting in the Department of Agriculture on 17th June 1976.

The society grew quite rapidly and the number of members doubled within 2 years and by 1980 had increased to 60 members. Membership grew steadily through the 1980s until it reached its peak of 350 in 1993/94 and currently stands at approx 200 members.

Breed Improvement

A substantial number of Texel breeders (about 40%), who own about 60% of pedigree ewes, have participated in the Sheep Breed Improvement Scheme operated by the Irish Department of Agriculture for many years. This involves records of growth to about 120 days of age together with ultrasonic scanning for back fat and muscle depth at 120 days of age. The results are combined into a Lean Meat or Genetic Index. Genetic indexes are estimates of the relative genetic merits of rams with regard to their progeny's potential for growth and carcass value when used in commercial flocks.

Up to 1996, these indexes were based on the animal's own individual performance, but took no account of the performance of relatives. Thus the genetic linkages that existed among flocks were not exploited to provide reliable comparability between animals in different flocks. However, since 1996, through the use of BLUP analysis, participating breeders are provided with the estimated breeding values (EBVs) of their lambs for growth rate, muscle depth (UMD) and fat depth (UFD). These breeding values are then combined to provide each animal (male and female) with an overall Lean Meat Index (LMI); this lean Meat Index can then be used to compare lamb performance within flocks.

Sire Referencing

Sire Referencing Schemes (SRS) have one simple objective; to forge genetic links between flocks so that the performance of lambs and sires in participating flocks can be measured and compared directly with one another. Since 1994 a number of Texel breeders in the Sheep Breed Improvement scheme have co-operated by using a selected number of rams (Reference sires) on a proportion of their pedigree ewes. The progeny of these sires in the different flocks provide the genetic links by which the lambs in the different flocks can be compared with one another. About 40% of the Texel ewes recorded by the Department of Agriculture are currently in the Sire Reference Scheme.