24 Sep 2021

Double-muscled sheep breed offers meaty gains

From Country Life, 9:32 pm on 24 September 2021
Beltex lambs and ewes

Beltex lambs and ewes Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Beltex ram lambs are making farmers around the country lick their chops. Known for its heavy hindquarters and excellent kill weights, the breed is the sheep industry's new kid on the butcher's block.

A cross of Belgian and Texel sheep, the Beltex is used primarily for mating with ewes to produce lambs for meat.

Blair Gallagher and his son Hamish run New Zealand's first Beltex stud at the family's breeding and finishing property near Mount Somers.

Currently lambing's in full swing on the scenic hill country farm.

"We've got about 150 of the purebred lambs on the ground this year which is the most we've had. We also run the cross-bred flock, so we've got Beltex-Suffolk, Beltex-Texel and Beltex-Cheviot ewes and they're about halfway through lambing," Hamish says.

A windy day on the farm! Hamish and Blair Gallagher

A windy day on the farm! Hamish and Blair Gallagher Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Blair was hooked on the Beltex breed the moment he saw them about 15 years ago.

"We saw them at some ag shows in the UK and I couldn't believe the amount of meat and muscling on the sheep," he says.

The first embryos were brought into New Zealand in 2017 by a partnership formed by Blair, animal geneticist Dr Jock Allison and farm advisor John Tavendale. Hamish Gallagher has also bought into the partnership.

"I didn't really know too much about the Beltex as I'd never seen them before, but after looking into it a bit it was pretty exciting seeing what they can do and it was great for me coming home (to farm) in the same year time Dad was bringing them in," Hamish says.

A fat bottomed Beltex lamb

A fat bottomed Beltex lamb Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

The first crop of lambs from the imported embryos created a real talking point and it wasn't long before sheep breeders were forking out big bickies for them.

At the Gallagher's first on-farm sale a top price of $15,000 was paid for a Suffolk-Beltex cross and $12,000 for a purebred Beltex.

Blair says once people had used the animals and could see the advantage they give, prices jumped again the next year.

This time record prices were paid for the purebred ram lambs. One sold for $22,000 and another for $21,000.

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Photo: Hamish Gallagher

It's been a big investment to set up the stud business.

The breeding programme has cost $1 million so far but Blair says the partnership has already made that money back.

"We're well and truly on the right side of the ledger, we crossed that barrier quite a while ago. We're selling embryos and semen overseas and we've got really good demand in our sales".

A two-tooth ewe sale is scheduled for November at Mount Somers. To find out more go to the Beltex New Zealand Facebook page.

Looking towards Mount Somers from a hilltop paddock

Looking towards Mount Somers from a hilltop paddock Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes