We are now nearing the end of our young sheep breeder editorial competition for 2021.

This week we feature the winner of the category for entrants aged 15 to 17.

We are proud to announce the winner is 17-year-old Liam Gilligan, from Sligo.

The entry deadline for the last senior age category is this Friday 6 August. This senior category is for entrants aged 18 to 21 years old.

The title of all categories remains: ‘Why I’m glad I had sheep the past year.’

At this time, we’d like to remind all winners so far to make themselves known to organisers before the show finishes at the premier sale next Friday 13 August.

Why I’m glad I had sheep the past year

by Liam Gilligan

For many, it may seem like the world has caved in over the course of the last year or so. For some, things were far from ideal before any external trouble was ever on the horizon. Personally, I am blessed, as through a year that tested the very toughest, I had a reprieve.

Over the last year, our flock of sheep provided a wholesome distraction from what was going on elsewhere, and kept my mind ticking over. It still had the same needs as ever, and brought the same joys and responsibilities as it always had. I was constantly monitoring their pastures and health, and making sure that everything was in proper working order, as well as keeping an eye on the sheep trade on a local level through the MartBids app. It is advised that we should keep learning for our mental health, and I feel my interest in sheep has been teaching me for years. You can’t be in sheep without learning new things, it happens naturally, often without you even realising it. I learn about maternal instincts when I see a ewe with new lambs, licking them to stimulate them so they can get up to suck. I learn about the environment, and how certain agricultural practices can make sure we farm without destroying the planet we are so lucky to have. I think that when you enjoy something, you’ll always want to learn about ways to make yourself better at doing it, and when it comes to sheep farming, your mental stimulation is complemented by being outdoors, surrounded by beautiful animals and nature as a whole. To be honest, more than anything, I am relieved that I had sheep in recent times as I don’t know how I would’ve coped being away from what I knew to be normal if I hadn’t had my interest in them.

I think that agriculture is changing now at a quicker rate than it has for a very long time. As somebody who has been researching the breed since I first came across Texels when I was in primary school, I have found out that there are so many advantages to keeping this breed.

Firstly, Texels are an exceptionally well-muscled animal, but do not gain the same amount of fat when on the thrive as other breeds. Instead, they put on muscle, and give the beautiful, lean carcases that weigh so well. This aspect of the breed is very important for producers, as the Texel provides everything that a lamb producer needs – a quick-finishing animal that brings high carcase weights and a succulent, rich flavour.

However, there are also other key advantages to the Texel breed that I think are often overlooked. Studies carried out in the US have proven that Texels tend to have far lower faecal egg counts and worm burdens than other sheep in the same environment.

This resistance is so important, as worms are building up so much resistance to commonly used wormers that these products are starting to lose effectiveness. This resistance Texels have also gives farmers rein to farm in a more natural way than they would with other breeds, without these artificial substances.

By using Texels, the costs of medication are greatly brought down, having a huge effect on producers’ bottom lines.

Their hardiness at birth and ease of lambing mean that keeping them is less labour intensive, and their superb muscling and frames mean that premium prices are paid for them when they are slaughtered.

For these reasons and more, I would be very interested in keeping Texels.