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Published in 2013 UK Texel Society Journal.

A Short History of Texels in Australia.

Does anybody remember the UK prime lamb industry of the 1950’s and 60’s when lamb was sold only on deadweight?  Imagine introducing Texels into such a market with no specification for conformation, with no Europ.  Texels were introduced into Australia in 1993 and continue to struggle for acceptance in a market still using only deadweight and basic fatscoring to value carcases. 

Texels arrived in Australia to great acclaim after 4 years of quarantine in New Zealand and a further 3 in Australia.  They were the first importation of any new meat breed since the pioneers brought in the Suffolk, Dorset Horn and Border Leicester.  The Australian Texels originated in Denmark and Finland and were selected for their scrapie free status.  The combination of the smaller heavy Danish Texels and the bigger framed Finnish Texels has resulted in a Texel well suited to Australian conditions which require an animal to be free moving, able to adapt to lengthy hot seasons and lamb without assistance.

Texel UK progeny 2013 Te Rakau Texels

Progeny of imported UK rams

Since their arrival Texels have dominated Prime Lamb Competition in every state.  Whether based on carcase yield or lean meat yield Texels have repeatedly swept the competitions.  Unfortunately the parameters used in carcase competitions, such as lean meat yield and conformation, are not commercial specifications at abattoir and saleyards.    Prejudice developed quickly against a carcase type so different to existing breeds.  Producers and agents were unfamiliar with a lamb which developed so much width and gigot without running to fat and as a result many lambs were sent for processing unfinished.  Texel ram sales have declined from a high of 2772 nationally in 2000 to only 629 in 2011 as the breed seems unable to overcome this prejudice.  

Texels were used extensively in composite breeding after their introduction, as they were in the UK.  UK producers quickly realised that more Texel meant greater profitability.  With very few parameters for profitability measurement in Australia the composites made little impact here as they were bred to resemble the existing breeds but sold as ‘Texel cross’.  Their lack of performance was then blamed on the Texel infusion.   Slow growth is a frequent criticism of Texels in Australia but is contradicted by the many successes of Texel sired progeny in spring prime lamb competitions.  Commercial producers Australia wide who have consigned their prime lamb in separate breed groups through the abattoir have for years reported substantially greater return from their Texel sired lambs due to the increased carcase yield.  As Australia has no Central Progeny Testing, commercial feedback takes on a greater relevance.  Australian Texels developed from the same genetic base as the New Zealand Texel where the breed has dominated their Central Progeny Test Profitability Index (Growth & Yield) for many years.

UK progeny Texels

Progeny of imported UK rams - 108325

Two major supermarket chains control most of the Australian market.  High St butchers have consistently retained around 28% of retail meat sales, but they rely on a personal relationship with their wholesaler to ensure supply of desirable product.  Any specifications to connect producer and retailer are seen as undesirable as it interferes with the other sectors’ ability to manipulate throughput and quality to create margins. 

Texel breeders in every state have at some time or other established numerous successful direct marketing alliances with Texel branded product in an effort to bypass the lack of market specifications, and industry prejudice.  The result at a retail level has been gratifying as the consumer response is overwhelming.  Retail butchers consistently identify a 15%-20% increase in profitability with Texel carcases.  However, in spite of this success these arrangements rarely persist for any length of time as the alliances have difficulty finding enough Texel sired lamb to guarantee year round continuity of supply on a scale to compete profitably with conventional marketing.  A branded product involves greater cost to the producer with specifications, code of practice requirements and smaller drafts of lambs.  These costs are difficult to recover.   The burden of co-ordination falls on the producer who has to act as livestock agent, wholesaler and marketer of the lamb, as well as supplying credit.   

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) created Lambplan as a performance recording system to provide Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) for growth, eye muscle depth, and fat as key traits.  All major meat breeds in Australia are assumed to be genetically identical and are analysed together.  The system receives widespread publicity.  Texel producers have been concerned for many years by an anomaly in the Texel Lambplan index which accumulates exaggerated EBVs for those Texels mated extensively into other breeds.  They attribute this anomaly to the inability of Lambplan to identify the presence of the myostatin gene, which creates a significant genetic difference between breeds.  Sheep used within the Texel breed where the myostatin gene count remains static at two in each generation cannot generate the same increases to their EBVs as Texels crossed into other breeds to introduce one copy of the myostatin gene where none existed previously.  Some years ago a Texel ram became number 1 in the Texel elite sires list despite never having been mated to a Texel.  The ram quickly disappeared when used in Texel flocks.  Most Texel breeders have now reached the conclusion that Lambplan cannot be used for breeding decisions, not only because of its inability to identify the inheritance pattern of myostatin, but also because of Lambplan’s emphasis on the growth index without adequate muscle.  Animals rating well in the Lambplan index are seen, even by some processors, as long, lean and lanky and difficult to finish.  What could have been a tool to demonstrate commercial value of Texels is now seen by most as having little merit.

UK progeny Texels

Progeny of imported UK rams - 92724

The sheep industry in Australia has undergone huge changes in recent years.  In 1993, when Texels were introduced, the Australian flock numbered 120 million, this has since decreased to around 67 million and shows little sign of recovering to any great extent.  Merino to merino matings for the wool industry make up about 60% of the sheep flock with the remainder divided between prime lamb sire/merino ewe matings and prime lamb sire/merino cross ewe matings.  The merino prime lamb dams are for the most part culls or older ewes cast for age from wool flocks.   The crossbred ewes are mainly Border Leicester/merino.  At the same carcase weight, but with great differences in lean meat yields, prime lamb progeny of merino and crossbred ewes have the same carcase value.    

The decline in sheep numbers is the result of a combination of intermittent drought over many years in almost every part of Australia, and the great decline in wool prices.  High grain prices have attracted many producers away from sheep to recoup the losses of the drought years.  The decline in wool value has subsequently increased the relative value of the prime lamb industry but has brought about further changes in the flock structure.  Many producers seeking to lower labour requirements and reduce costs have opted for the African breeds of shedding and dual purpose sheep.  In mixed farming enterprises prime lamb is seen as secondary to wool and grain, and this is unlikely to change until prime lamb production is given the equivalent of the comprehensive descriptions available to the wool and grain industries to extract a premium from the market.

Texel UK Progeny

Progeny of imported UK rams - 98336

The Australian Texel Stud Breeders Association is now a core of what could be called ‘The True Believers’ with only 60 flocks.  Most of the current membership has been with the association since Texels were introduced and they continue to invest in their breeding.  Year after year they showcase Texels at the various state and national shows and dominate most of the carcase competitions.  In 2004 new Texel genetics arrived in Australia from Scotland and these animals have now had an impact in Australia and New Zealand.  Their pedigree carries all the most influential bloodlines of the British Texel flock to 1995 and they have integrated well to breed the type of Texel suited to Australian conditions.  The sire was Kirtle Banker, the bloodlines include Annan Won o Won, Woodmarsh AllGold, Annan Ygorra, Netherkeir Blaze, Glenside Youre A Winner and numerous others still appearing in the pedigrees of today’s UK champions.

2013 marks 20 years since Texels arrived in Australia and we have been allocated feature breed status at many major shows.  We believe we have a great deal to celebrate as Texels have been instrumental in demonstrating the value of improved carcase yield and conformation in spite of being unable to gain acceptance for these qualities.   Meat and Livestock Australia has identified the consumer’s inconsistent and unsatisfactory eating experience as the greatest hurdle to increasing lamb consumption. Texels have proved themselves in every instance as being able to deliver desirable product but have now endured 20 years of frustration at their inability to connect with consumers.

A Brief History

The Te Rakau Texel Stud was established in 1994 with 5 embryos from the Australian Texel Corporation.

Since then, Te Rakau has broadened the genetic base of their flock with the purchase of frozen embryos and semen at the Australian Texel Corporation closing sale, and with extensive use of embryo transfer and artificial insemination.

All of the genes used by the Australian Texel Corporation originated from Denmark and Finland via New Zealand. The sheep evolving from this gene pool are developing into heavily muscled, free moving animals well suited to the Australian environment.

Stud Breeding Principles

The main strengths of the Texel breed are carcass meat yield and conformation.
Signals feeding back from the marketplace indicate an increasing emphasis on the importance of these traits in creating maximum return for producers.

Results for Te Rakau Texels in carcass competitions over the recent few years have shown their rams capable of producing lambs with these important traits. In 2000, Te Rakau lambs produced the highest yielding entry in the Wagin Woolorama Prime Lamb competition - averaging 44.3kg liveweight, resulting in 24.3kg carcass - a yield of 54.7%.

These lambs were drawn from Te Rakau's commercial prime lamb flock of first and second cross lambs, the remainder of which were processed commercially to produce similar results. These carcasses are attractive to producers for a number of reasons :

1) Higher yields result in increased saleable meat.

2) Increased muscle to bone ratio produces better muscle conformation.

3) Better muscle conformation allows the processor more flexibility in their cuts.

The same bloodlines used by Te Rakau to sire the carcass competition winners predominate throughout their stud flock. The new bloodlines introduced to the Te Rakau stud several years ago are now showing great influence on the depth of breeding within the flock.

UK genetics integrated at Te Rakau

Rob and Maria Wood of Te Rakau have purchased 3 rams and 2 ewes sent to Australia as embryos by Innovis Genetics of Edinburgh, Scotland in 2004. The genetics have integrated exceptionally well with the Australian bred Texels. The next generations of Australian bred rams of this breeding are now being offered for sale. The rams are well balanced, well covered and carry the exceptional hindquarter of their UK breeding. The UK genetics present a rare opportunity to complement the traits developed by Australian breeders.

Within two years of their introduction to Te Rakau the UK rams have sired:

  • 2010 ASBA Sheep and Wool Show Bendigo Supreme Texel Exhibit with the Champion Ram selected from Lamb classes.
  • 2009 and 2010 ASBA Sheep and Wool Show Bendigo Reserve Champion Ewe from Lamb classes.
  • 2009 ASBA Sheep and Wool Show Bendigo 4th All Breeds Interbreed Group of Ram and 2 Ewes.
  • 2009 and 2010 Perth Royal Show Supreme Texel Exhibit with Champion Ewes from under 1½ year class.
  • 2009 Wagin Woolorama Champion Texel Ewe from Lamb class.
  • 2010 Wagin Woolorama Champion Texel Ram and Reserve Champion Ewe from Lamb classes.
  • 2010 Perth Royal Show Prime Lamb Competition Champion Carcase sired by commercial ram of UK breeding.
  • 2010 Moora Stud Sheep Breeders Association sale. Highest price ram and highest sale average.
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Robert & Maria Wood
C/o Post Office, Bindi Bindi,  Western Australia, 6574
Ph/Fx +61 8 9654 3012  Mob O427 543 012   email terakau@bigpond.com

©Te Rakau Texel Stud 2001
Last updated 4 November, 2013