The Texel Fix-All
Bulk Brings Bucks!
By Tim King
Texels are a white-faced breed of heavily muscled sheep that originated in the Netherlands. British shepherds became interested in the breed and started importing them from the Netherlands in the early 1970s. The first Texels imported into the U.S. came in 1985. Those original U.S. Texels were imported by the USDA Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Center, Nebraska.
“The Texel is now the dominant terminal sire in the United Kingdom,” says Charlie Wray, who raises purebred Texels near Caledonia in southeastern Minnesota. “When you think of the U.K., you think about people that know how to raise sheep with good production traits and carcass quality.”
Wray and his wife Deb started raising sheep at their Portland Prairie Texels farm in 1988.
First Goal: Production
“We have always been focused on production,” Charlie said. “Type is a great thing that comes along with it but you have to have production first.”
In the early 90s the Wrays became aware of the Texels and the research being done with the breed at the Meat Animal Research Center. They were impressed with the carcass quality of the breed.
“The most outstanding feature of the Texel breed is its remarkable muscle development and leanness,” writes the Texel Sheep Breeders Society at its website. “Research articles archived at the Texel Sheep Breeders Society show that Texel-sired lambs have larger loin eye area and more tender loin eyes than Suffolk-sired crossbred lambs.”
The Texel also develops less total carcass fat and most of that fat is trimmable rather than embedded between the muscles. The result is a lean and deliciously flavored product, Charlie Wray says.
“Texels also have larger leg scores,” he said. “Another one of the research results was the finding that crossbred lambs from a Texel sire have about 10 percent increased survivability as compared to Suffolk crosses. The researchers found that Texel lambs just got up and went to town.”
After studying the extensive research, the Wrays became convinced that Texels were for them. So in 1998, they imported semen from four rams from the Netherlands.
“I also liked them because they do well on grass,” Charlie said. “I like turning grass into meat. Our sheep are on rotationally grazed pasture from May until mid to late November and then we feed hay until we lamb in February and March.”
After that first importation, starting in 2003, the Wrays imported semen from eight more rams. Those were from the U.K.
Charlie’s also a large animal veterinarian and advise, “Our selection criteria have always been based on productivity. The Estimated Breeding Values must be high for loin depth and weight gain.”
EBVs, or Estimated Breeding Values, are an index of heritable traits that are measured and then used to improve on-farm productivity and enhance breeding decisions, according to Wray.
“My selection and culling decisions are based on the productivity statistics,” Charlie said.
The Wrays are selecting for traits that will continue to improve upon the Texel ram’s already top quality traits as a terminal sire. Texel rams, when crossed with a prolific ewe with good maternal qualities, will pass on the meat and carcass quality genetics of the breed, Charlie says.
“The Polypay or Katahdin, for example, are excellent maternal breeds,” he said. “They are prolific and milk well and bring multiple lambs to market. These breeds are a natural fit for using a Texel ram as a terminal sire on the bottom eighty-percent of your ewes. Multiple birth commercial ewes don’t have undue lambing issues when using a heavily muscled Texel ram. The resulting lambs are improved in all the carcass traits that keep farmers’ market customers and the ethnic buyer coming back for more.”
To continue to improve their Texel flock the Wrays select for production values such as loin eye size, weaning weight, and growth rate first, but functional type traits are also important, Charlie says.
“They have to have good feet and legs to get around to do the job and to breed,” he said. “In ewes a good sized pelvis for the ease in lambing is also an important functional type trait. An animal that might do well in the show ring might have a tight pelvis that will make problems for her down the line. Since our Texel flock is on pasture from May until mid November and on hay until they lamb in the spring, functional type also includes body capacity and body depth.”
Although Dave Coplen has never purchased Texels from Charlie Wray his experience with Texel x Katahdin crosses confirms all of Wray’s assertions. Coplen has a Katahdin breeding stock flock and a commercial flock of about one hundred ewes at Birch Cove Farm near Fulton, in Central Missouri. He says that his grass fed Texel x Katahdin lambs look a little like cement blocks on legs.
“They are little pigs in sheep suits. They have such big butts and are very meaty,” Coplen, who is the former President of Katahdin Hair Sheep International, said. “My Muslim customers really like that and once they’ve bought a lamb from me they keep coming back. The Texel crosses dress out at a higher percentage than a straight Katahdin.”
Good Money In Texel Crosses
Coplen has been crossing Texels and Katahdins since the late 1990s. During those nearly twenty years, he has taken Charlie Wray’s experience with Texels rams as excellent terminal sires one step further: He initially purchased two Texel ewes and a ram lamb at a show in Sedalia Missouri.
“We’ve purchased a couple of purebred Texel rams and over the years we’ve also purchased ten or twelve purebred Texel ewes,” Coplen said. We’ve crossed Texel rams with Katahdin ewes and Texel ewes with Katahdin rams. We’ve done it both ways and get similar results. I haven’t seen much difference.”
Either way, Coplen says that the big meaty Texel rump is evident down to a one-sixteenth cross, but acknowledges the one-half and one-quarter Texel cross tend to be the meatiest mixes.
Coplen, like Charlie Wray, says Texels thrive on grass, as do Katahdins. So crossing the two breeds and using them in a grass-based lamb production system makes good sense as well as good profits.
“I’m on coal strip mine spoil that was never reclaimed,” Coplen said. “It was mined in the 1940s and they just walked away from it. When we first got it, it was 4.2 pH and .000-something organic matter. We put big bales out on it and let the sheep turn it back into pasture. The soil supports good pasture now. We have not limed or fertilized it. We just let the sheep and nature take their course.”
“I’m a management-intensive grazer with 23 paddocks on 70 acres of grass,” Coplen said. All of the paddocks can be broken down into smaller paddocks. Moving them every two or three days, I can run 100 ewes and 200 lambs for the first three or four months of the lambs’ life on these two or three-acre paddocks.”
Coplen says Texels aren’t as prolific as Katahdins. “Texels have less of a tendency to twin,” he observed. “The fifty-percent crosses will always twin and the Katahdin ewes don’t have trouble with the Texel-crossed lambs: I’ve never pulled a lamb.”
Once they become mothers, the Katahdins and the Texel crosses are good at it. Coplen recalls a ewe that had quadruplets.
“An excellent mother is one that doesn’t lose any lambs and one that produces well,” he said. “This ewe raised all four lambs and for the first few weeks of their lives I don’t think those lambs were ever more than five feet away from her. She was smart: She could count. She knew when she had all four of them! That’s good mothering. I don’t care if she has more or less milk, because those lambs were getting all of it.”
Coplen has discovered one other trait of the Texel x Katahdin crosses that he raises at his Birch Cove Farm.
“Katahdin is the only breed in the NSIP that has an Estimated Breeding Value for fecal egg count,” he said. “When we first got our EBVs back 12 of the 15 most parasite resistant ewes were my Texel upgrades. I’ve talked to other breeders who have a different bloodline than I do and they don’t see any improvement on the Katahdin resistance with Texel crosses. But on this farm I’m breeding some pretty resistant crosses.”
To learn more about Texels and how they can improve your lamb crop you can visit the Wrays Portland Prairie Texels Farm web site at PortlandPrairieTexels.com or call them at (507) 495-3265. David Coplen may be reached by e-mail, at BalancedEPDs@yahoo.com. Or telephone him at (573) 642-7746. You’re also invited to visit the Texel Sheep Breeders Society at their website: USATexels.org.
Originally published in 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.