Breeding for production and function
Innovation has been at the heart of the British Texel Sheep Society since its formation 45 years ago, leading the way in the adoption of new technologies like ultrasound & CT scanning to assess carcass merit in live ram lambs. Early Texel breeders also put significant effort into promoting the breed to commercial producers and processors.

That, and the superior carcass merit of the Texel, has led to the breed becoming the UK’s leading terminal sire, accounting for nearly 30% of all rams used in the UK, more than twice that of its nearest rival. The breed is also a popular maternal sire, with more than 12.5% of females in the national flock being Texel cross ewes. The Society’s members now comprise the largest collective breeding group in UK livestock production.

Meeting the needs of commercial farmers while supporting traditional pedigree breeding activity in the UK, including agricultural shows and livestock markets, is the central ethos of the Society. To this end, supporting genetic progress has long been at the heart of the breed’s success with leading breeders using genetic improvement tools to continually improve lean meat yield and growth rate whilst optimising muscularity and fatness.

The Society has actively engaged in a number of research and development projects in recent years supported by funding from Innovate UK and working with research and industry partners including SRUC, Warwick University, SRUC Egenes, ABP and the leading genomics laboratory Neogen.

Recent research has been focussed on capturing hard to measure traits, including, initially, two key health traits, mastitis and footrot, with further projects launched in 2017 examining carcass traits and meat quality to inform breeding decisions in pedigree flocks and continue to pass on improved genetics to commercial buyers.

The carcass composition and meat quality research has made use of a number of novel technologies in the sheep sector, including CT scanning, video image analysis (VIA) carcass grading and near infra-red (NIR) assessment of meat-eating qualities.

The Society’s research into mastitis and footrot is focused on improving the breed’s resilience to disease and enhancing maternal traits, and gains made will reduce the need for antibiotic use in the sheep sector.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest challenges facing both animal and human medicine and everything which can be done to reduce the use of these drugs in farming will help slow the development of resistance.

Innovation and development in the sheep sector have, historically, been notoriously slow due to the slow generation turnover and difficulties in using artificial breeding techniques on commercial farms. As a result of its business and research focus, the Texel Sheep Society is developing new tools for its breeders, helping to drive genetic progress as easily as possible with a variety of novel tools, which will enable the sheep sector to fulfil its environmental and social responsibilities.

John Yates, Chief Executive, John Yates

John continues: “As the largest terminal sire breed in the UK the Texel breed has a highly significant impact on the UK industry, adding more than £23m/year to the UK sheep sector. But, with size comes responsibility, and this is something the Society takes seriously. Research and development undertaken by the Society is done with the aim of influencing as big a portion of the UK industry as possible and delivering meaningful benefits to everyone associated with the Texel breed. Small gains in genetic improvement in the Texel breed are worth millions of pounds for the industry, through improvements in production efficiency.”

Introducing genomics, along with investing in a cloud-based database, is the current focus for the Society in the evolutionary process of providing sheep farmers with as much information as possible on the Texel breed and supporting commercial producers in making their purchasing and breeding decisions. More importantly, the Society services and its investment in novel traits and genomic solutions will support individual Texel breeders in identifying specific animals of proven performance, with less need for progeny testing for given traits of commercial value. This will help increase rates of genetic improvement and ensure breeders have access to information to support their genetic improvement programme.

CIEL and Texel Sheep Society
The Society has been a Member of CIEL since early 2017. CIEL’s Head of Innovation Dr Mark Young was conference chairman of the inaugural iTexel conference held in November 2018 at which the spotlight was on breeding for production and function. The event provided a powerful insight into the prospects for the sheep sector in the coming years and the ways new technologies and concepts can help its supply chain become more resilient.

CIEL is pleased to have Texel Sheep Society as a member. Their history of innovation and adoption has been industry-leading, and they are asking the right questions about ‘what next?’. We look forward to supporting their innovation goals and the benefits that will flow out to the UK sheep industry.

Dr Mark Young, Head of Innovation, CIEL