Texel sheep breeders enjoying life

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Paul and Kay Gardner with a Texel ram hogget.

By Toni Williams

Paul and Kay Gardner may have downsized their farm operation but its not diminished their appreciation for their Texel sheep operation.

Their sheep stud, Kallara, registered in 2002, is just on a smaller, more manageable scale giving them time to enjoy life off the farm and spending more time with family.

The couple, who now live at Mitcham, just north of Ashburton, are on a 23-hectare block.

Their farm is nestled among a cross breed of Mid Canterbury’s farming operations.

They were not actively looking to move but the chance came up two and a half years ago and they took it.

They run 150 stud ewes, ram hoggets and ewe lambs. They also have a few commercial ewes.

It’s a far cry from the 140-hectare block at Mayfield they used to own, which was where they perfected their Texel sheep stud.

At peak their operation at Mayfield was running up to 200 stud ewes as well as other commercial ewes however their main source of income came from bull beef raised and sold to Canterbury Meat Packers, now-called ANZCO Foods.

“We kept the operation simple and efficient as it had to be making money,” Kay says.

Paul, who is the New Zealand Texel Breed committee chairman as well as a breed judge, says Texel is more known for its meat but it has a dual purpose along with its wool.

It’s a muscley sheep breed, renowned for good yields and white wool, which can be easily bleached (or dyed for use), he says.

They also have minimal metabolic disease and breed hardy ewes with great temperament.

The meat is succulent, well textured and “nice tasting” to suit the consumer.

Paul says choosing the Texel breed over others came down to a bit of research and a test.

He trialled 400 ewes across four ram breeds; Dorset Downs, Texel, Oxford and Romney; each ram had 100 ewes.

It came down to the breed which gave the best lambs up to weaning.

“The Texels were the heaviest by a mile.”

He said the ultimate aim for a commercial farmer is to have “everything out the gate at weaning” which is cost effective.

Paul has used artificial insemination in the past but prefers having a ram in the paddock for mating; it was also less costly.

Paul and Kay Gardner.

The couple, who have been married for 41 years, have three adult daughters and, so far, three grandchildren, have worked hard to build up their business.

Despite growing up on sheep farms either side of Waiau, North Canterbury; Kay on a Merino Stud and Paul on a Romney Border Leicester farm, they did not meet until their late teens.

They started dating in their early 20s.

As newly weds in 1979 they started in a share farm partnership in Culverden before moving to another share farm at Ashburton Forks in Mid Canterbury in 1990.

It was at this time the Texel breed was being brought into New Zealand from Denmark and Finland.

It would be four years before the Gardners were able to buy their own farm at Mayfield and establish the Kallara Stud.

But they have always run it as “a one-man band” and have had an off-farm income to allow them to build up the business.

Kay is a qualified teacher, albeit retired after 20-plus years teaching at Ashburton Borough School, but even now she has kept her license to teach current.

Paul, who has a myriad of agricultural experience as well as a commercial pilot licence, has been hands-on around the farm.

Their continual success in the Mint Lamb competition at the New Zealand Agricultural Show is a testament to those efforts. They have won the title three times; first in 2014, then in 2017 and again in 2019 under a different format.

Paul says they scored third in the carcass yield but won tender and taste which boosted their overall score. So along with the official Mint Lamb trophy, a show ribbon and $1000 prize money they get bragging rights.

He admits it was a surprise win last year as he thought the subterranean (sub) clover found in Mayfield contributed to the lamb’s taste but, as they are only grass-fed on the new farm, it dispelled his theory.

They have made some great friends through the Texel breed with reciprocal visits from breeders in England and Scotland, and through competition judging met others throughout New Zealand and in Australia.

Paul always enters ewe lambs which tend to have a greater fat cover and the right level of Intramuscular fat (or marbling).

But he says there is nothing scientific about entering the competition, it was just “about knowing your product”.

And he had done the homework on Intramuscular fat in the breed.

In the competition, all lambs entered were judged, and given points on their overall carcass yield (the difference between their live and processed weights) and as viewed on the hook.

The top 12 entries were then tender-tested at Lincoln University before being tasted and tested.