Double muscled sheep breed offers meaty gains

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

Beltex ram lambs are forcing farmers across the country to lick their chops. Known for its heavy hindquarters and excellent slaughter weight, the breed is the new kid on the block in the butchery industry.

A cross between Belgian and Texel sheep, the Beltex is mainly used to mate with ewes to produce lambs for meat.

Blair Gallagher and his son Hamish run New Zealand’s first Beltex kennel on the family’s breeding and finishing property near Mount Somers.

Lambing is in full swing at the picturesque farm in the hills.

“We have about 150 purebred lambs in the field this year which is the most we have had. We also manage the crossbreed herd, so we have Beltex-Suffolk, Beltex-Texel and Beltex-Cheviot ewes and they are halfway through lambing, ”says Hamish.

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 became addicted to the Beltex breed when he saw them about 15 years ago.

“We saw them at some farm shows in the UK and I couldn’t believe the amount of meat and bodybuilding on the sheep,” he says.

The first embryos were introduced to New Zealand in 2017 by a partnership of Blair, animal geneticist Dr Jock Allison and agricultural advisor John Tavendale. Hamish Gallagher has also joined the partnership.

“I didn’t know much about Beltex as I had never seen them before, but after thinking about it a bit it was pretty exciting to see what they can do and it was great for me to come back to home (on the farm) in the same year Dad brought them, ”Hamish says.

A fat-bottomed Beltex lamb

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

The first harvest of lambs from imported embryos created a real talking point, and it didn’t take long for sheep farmers to hand them out big biquettes.

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

Blair says that once people used the animals and saw the benefit they offer, the prices went up again the following year.

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

No legend

Photo: Hamish Gallagher

The creation of the stud business was a big investment.

The breeding program has cost $ 1 million so far, but Blair says the partnership has already clawed back that money.

“We are indeed on the right side of the ledger, we crossed that barrier a long time ago. We are selling embryos and sperm overseas and we have very good demand in our sales.”

A two-tooth ewe sale is scheduled for November in Mount Somers. To find out more, visit the Beltex New Zealand Facebook page.

Looking towards Mount Somers from an enclosure on top of a hill

Looking towards Mount Somers from an enclosure on top of a hill
Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

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