SHEEP BREEDERS: Ted and Debbie Benn feel at home in Teesdale
SHEEP BREEDERS: Ted and Debbie Benn feel at home in Teesdale

Ted and Debbie Benn have notched up some notable showing success with their pedigree British Texels which they have been breeding since 2013. Wendy Short went to see them at their home near Cotherstone

CHAMPION sheep breeders Ted and Debbie Benn had to scale back their show attendance last year because of the hot weather. However, they still brought home a red ribbon from the North Yorkshire County Show for a ewe lamb which had been placed second in her class earlier in the year at Northumberland.

The pair notched up several awards in 2017, taking the breed championship at the North Yorkshire and the female championship at Skelton Show, near Penrith. In the same year, one of their Beltex tup lambs was crowned Continental champion at the Honley Show, near Halifax, where they also had the British Texel champion, with a gimmer shearling.

Keen members of the Northern area British Texel Breeders’ Club, the Benns have worked at Wodencroft Estate for more than a decade. They regularly attend shows and sales at Carlisle and Skipton. The Nesbitts, of Alwent Hall, near Winston, have supplied them with a number of foundation ewes and tups.

“They have had an influence on the selection of our replacements,” says Ted. “One ewe they bred produced a tup lamb for us which went to a farmer in the Midlands who is delighted with it.

“When we attend sales, we will generally pay between 500gns and 1,400gns for a new ram. We will often make our selection, only to find that the bidding goes out of our reach. It is a case of let the eye be the guide and the wallet be the judge.

“We are MV-accredited, and we will only buy in breeding stock from flocks with a high health status. If we can continue improving conformation and growth rates, the value of our individual animals should increase on an annual basis.”

The Dutch Texel has been introduced recently and has proven to be a great asset to the enterprise.

“The Dutch Texel is the breed from which the British Texel and the Beltex originated. It is smaller than the British Texel and is very hardy, having evolved from a line which inhabited Texel Island, off the coast of The Netherlands. The island has a harsh climate, which makes the breed ideally suited to farms in the north and Scotland.

“The British Texel and the Beltex have become very popular, with the double-muscling of the Beltex in particular producing finished lambs with excellent conformation. We normally sell finished stock through Kirkby Stephen auction mart.”

Over the past few years the aim has been to focus on establishing strong female breeding lines, as these are key to producing good tups, he adds.

The first lambs are born at the end of January to allow the best animals plenty of time to grow on, in time for the start of the showing season.

The ewes are brought inside in the New Year and given access to the paddocks during the day, as it is felt that the exercise results in an easier lambing. AI has been used on occasion with an 80 per cent success rate, but the usual route is through natural service. AI tups which have been used in the past have come from the Scholars, Uskvale and Stainton flocks, with Feddal Road Yoohoo the stand-out sire in the flock’s history.

The pair met when Debbie, a trained chef, was running a restaurant near Penrith and Ted was a self-employed farm labourer and plant driver. They use their holidays to cover lambing and a visit to one of the major agricultural shows; in 2019, it will be the turn of the Royal Welsh.

“Teesdale feels like home now and we have found that people here are very friendly,” says Ted. “It is not easy to make a profit out of a small flock, but we are starting to reap the benefits of all our efforts, in terms of genetic improvement. We think we are heading in the right direction with the breeding policy.”