Friday, December 8, 2023

On Texel Island with its famous sheep

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Emma Blom visits the birthplace of the celebrated breed in the Netherlands.
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By Emma Blom

Koos and Pauline Tjepkema have been farming at the birthplace of Texel sheep since 1973. 

They began milking cows out of an old-fashioned shed and didn’t want to invest to upgrade infrastructure, so they converted to Texel sheep and got just as much joy and more freedom from the farm, Koos said.

Texel sheep originate on the small island of that name on the northern coast of the Netherlands. 

The muscular and lean carcase breed has an original heritage from Lincoln, Leicester and Wensleydale.

The lambing season on the island is from mid-February until mid-April and due to Texel sheep having large heads, all lambing is indoors and assisted. 

For the rest of the year they are free to graze outdoors. 

Koos said the caesarean rate has decreased over the years, from more than 400 across 15 breeders, down to 30 a season now. 

Decreasing caesarean rates has been a real focus through genetic selection alongside meat growth, short tails and rounded, muscular rear ends. 

Last year’s 100-day weight was 38-40 kg for single lambs. 

No artificial insemination is used because Koos likes to keep it natural. 

The flock is made up of 300 lambing ewes, and lambs are exported to neighbouring countries including Germany, Belgium, Italy and there’s interest from Switzerland. A third of the farm’s sheep are for breeding and the rest are for the meat industry, including old ewes going to Italy for holidaygoers’ beachside kebabs. 

The building in the background of the picture was built in 1800 and is still used today for chickens and shelter for the sheep. 

Originally known as the bakkers boot (the baker’s shed) it is unchanged and in the traditional Dutch style with a reed roof. 

The Tjepkema family have some of the highest land above sea level on the island. In the North Sea flood of 1953, neighbouring stock was moved to the higher ground around the “boot”. 

Texel island has become a brand name on its own, creating demand for locally produced products such as wool. 

Because of this marketing, Texel Island farmers get €0.80 (about $1.44) per kg of white wool that goes to a small, local factory that makes duvets, pillows and mattresses with 100% pure Texel wool. Only Texel Island farmers get this premium price and is not representative of mainland wool. 

In the past Blue Texel wool was in high demand, fetching €5 a fleece. However, the market has collapsed due to it being small scale and difficult to process. 

Pauline’s friend started up a cosmetic company using pure lanolin after realising her husband didn’t get dry or irritated hands, thanks to the lanolin in the wool. 

They cooked it up in a contraption in the garden and gave it to friends and family. 

People loved it and today it is sold by what became De Noordkroon Cosmetics Company, where Pauline helps with sales and promotion.

Piggybacking off of the Texel brand, their eldest daughter has come on board and started Kamperen bij de bore (Camping by the Farmer). 

This is a common concept in the Netherlands, where holidaygoers can camp on farmland. This opens up to tourists after lambing. 

The sheep bring enough for only one household, and having multiple income streams helps with risk mitigation. 

The sheep are the main business, and alongside tourism the family focus on producing potatoes, vegetables and eggs.

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