By Debbie James

Membership of the South Wales Texel Breeders Club’s judging panel has allowed Andrew Thomas to hone his expert eye for spotting the finest animals.

Andrew has applied this methodology to establishing and growing his own pedigree Texel flock at Gwarllwyn, the Carmarthenshire dairy farm he runs with his parents, Hywel and Sian.

“If you have a big enough budget it is easy enough to improve a flock by buying top end stock but if the aim is to achieve this as commercially as possible, as I am, you need a good eye for the right animals – that and patience,’’ he suggests.

But occasionally an animal comes along that is worth stretching the budget for, like Milnbank A Class, a tup lamb which set Andrew back 4,200 guineas at the Texel Premier Sale in Worcester last year.

“He stood out to me from the first time I saw him and he was much admired by others. He has style, shape and length and that bit of class that I look for in a lamb. Hopefully he will pass these traits on to his lambs.’’

As the son of 60,000-guinea Strathbogey Yes Sir, the odds on that happening are indeed very favourable.

“It is important for us to get the family line right so that exceptional traits can be passed onto lambs,’’ Andrew explains.

He established his pedigree Brynmeini Texel flock in 2006, after graduating from Aberystwyth University with a degree in geography.

What started with six ewes from the Welsh and Preswylfa flocks and a tup lamb, Welsh Magician, also from the Welsh flock, by Claybury Knock It Back, has now grown to 40 breeding ewes.

Andrew retained all the females from the foundation ewes for breeding and in 2011 he bought a ewe from the Trujim flock, an animal he describes as one of the best ever breeding ewes.

The following year he acquired two females from the late National Sheep Association (NSA) sale, including the sale’s female champion, a 1,000-guinea ewe from the Einon flock, as well as a ewe from the Cennen flock, which he paid 1,050 guineas for.

His most influential sire to date is Strathbogie Stonker, purchased as a yearling in 2012 for 1400 guineas. “He has left length, body depth and breed character on both females and males,’’ Andrew observes.

The flock, which takes its name from one of the fields at Gwarllwyn, is tupped naturally, in two groups. “I’m not against AI or embryo transfer, I just find natural service works for us,’’ reasons Andrew. “Perhaps in the future we might try these approaches but you have to have the right animal for that.’’

The flock scans at an average of 170 per cent. Ewes lamb over eight weeks, in February and March. Over this period, they are at grass during the day and housed at night, fed only hay and mineral buckets until they lamb, after which they are fed concentrates.

Lambs are creep-fed from three weeks old and continue to receive supplementary feed; the lambs that are selected to be sold fat at local markets are supplemented until they are two months old while the lambs deemed suitable for breeding continue to receive additional feed until they are presented for sale.

Andrew’s selection criteria for the animals he intends to sell as breeding stock or retain as replacements for his own flock is straightforward.

“I always look for the type of Texel that I would want in my flock, an animal with length, a good body and carcass, with the characteristics of the Texel breed. Anything that doesn’t meet that criteria is sold fat.’’

Two essential criteria he stipulates for tup lambs are length and a good back end. Ram lambs are sold at sales and to private buyers, recently averaging between £300 and £500.

First and foremost, Andrew breeds to suit the needs of commercial farmers. “We have to remember who will be lambing them after we have sold them on.’’

But he also has aspirations in the pedigree sector. “My target is to sell a ram to another pedigree breeder and to break that four-figure barrier!’’