New Zealand has a new breed of sheep, shown last week at the Canterbury A&P Show.
Beltex, or Belgian Texel, has been bred for around 18 years in the UK, where it is valued for its particularly heavy hindquarters and high meat yield.
The BeltexNZ partnership brings him to New Zealand – Blair Gallagher, farmer from Mount Somers, former Invermay chief Dr Jock Allison, and agricultural advisor John Tavendale.
Gallagher says they first considered bringing the breed here about ten years ago, but the quarantine and other requirements made it prohibitive. Modified protocols now make it convenient, but still expensive.
Imported Beltex embryos and semen were introduced to the Perendale, Suffolk and Poll Dorset herds on Gallagher’s Rangiatea farm near Mount Somers in Mid-Canterbury.
The first lambs were born in early August and Gallagher now has 55 from five different bulls. He admits that they did not have a “bright” vision for embryo implantation, reaching only 37% when they hoped for 50%.
So they returned to the UK to get more semen and embryos from three other stallions – two independent sires each – to further expand the genetic base.
“I hope we don’t have to go back because it’s a great way to drain your bank account,” Gallagher jokes.
He believes that as a beef breed the real potential lies in using Beltex terminal sires in New Zealand herds to improve the quality of carcass conformation and meat yield.
While traditional breeds give mortality percentages of 42-43% (Texel reaches closer to 46%), pure Beltex gives up to 58%.
“Half crosses won’t be as good as thoroughbreds, but the Dorset or Suffolk cross will be closer to 52%. So there is a huge increase in yield and this is the real potential of Beltex.
UK meat companies are willing to pay a 10-15% premium for Beltex crossbred lambs, Gallagher said Rural News.
He took 16 animals to the Canterbury Show last week, including four purebred Beltex lambs born to mothers with embryonic implants, some IA cross lambs and their mothers.
Although the animals weren’t entered in competition classes, Gallagher expected the show at the show to generate a lot of interest.
The Beltex is believed to be the first new breed of sheep introduced to New Zealand since the Charollais a decade ago.
“It’s a million dollar project over two years, but I see real benefits for the New Zealand sheep industry. There is tremendous interest in what we are doing.