The Texel sheep breed originates from the island of Texel, the largest of the Frisian Islands off the north coast of The Netherlands. There they have been bred for centuries. The original Old Texel was probably a short-tailed variety of sheep. Although the exact origins of the breed are unknown, Lincolns and Leicester Longwools are thought to have been crossed with the native island sheep during the mid-1800’s.
The Texel, now known for it’s meaty characteristics, is said to originally, prior to 1850, have been a milk sheep. Cheese from these sheep had been known throughout Europe, and in 1567 the Italian traveler Ludovico Guicciardini wrote that the islanders of Texel “make cheeses… of a particularly delicate taste, which no other cheese, not even the Parmesan, can be compared with.”
Sometime in the 1800s, sheep breeders on the island of Texel began to change the emphasis of their breeding to that of a meat breed. The characteristics of the breed were established through local showing competitions on the island. A sheep that would produce heavily muscled lambs of superior eating quality was the goal. Since the primary market for these lambs was Continental Europe where excess fat on meat cuts has always been unpopular, significant effort was put into selecting for lean, muscular animals. The Texel breed is now the most common meat breed in the Netherlands, making up seventy percent of the national flock.
The value of the Texel sheep breed as a producer of top-quality lamb is gradually being recognized as Texels have become the #1 choice as a terminal sire in Europe, and are rapidly spreading across the rest of the world including New Zealand and Australia, as well as North and South America.
Texels were originally imported into the US from the Netherlands in 1984 by the US Meat Animal Research Center (US MARC). Starting in 1990 the research center released some for purchase by private individuals. Importations from the UK as well as Australia have been made by a number of individuals since then. Since 1990 numbers of Texel sheep in the US have steadily risen and continues to grow rapidly.
US Texel sheep are white-faced with no wool on the face or legs. They have short, wide muzzles with black noses, and ears of relatively horizontal carriage. Their legs are widely placed with black hooves.
The wool is of medium grade (46’s-56’s) with no black fibers and (I am told by those who know) works very well for spinning and felting. It is very soft and springy with a nice crimp. Staple length for adult ewes averages at about 3.5-4 in. with 6-7 inch staples appearing regularly. Fleece weights average 4.5-5 lbs.
Texels are known for their extreme muscling, fast growth, and ability to thrive on pasture without grain supplementation. Even F1 level cross lambs such as the one pictured to the right are heavily influenced by the Texel genes. Research results from Clay Center and the University of Wisconsin indicate that Texel-sired lambs typically have a 6-10% advantage in loin-eye area and one full additional leg score when compared to black-face-sired lambs. Results from these same studies showed much better feed conversion as well. This is likely due to the width and depth of body that is typical of the Texel breed.
Texel lambs have an avg. growth rate ranging from .5 lb/ day to over 1 lb/ day depending on nutritional management and litter size. Adult Texels are medium sized sheep with ewes weighing 150 – 200 pounds.
One of the first things a person will notice when observing a Texel flock for the first time is their calm, docile, but curious temperament. This makes them easy to work around and they are less likely to get stressed by handling. Rams are unlikely to get mean if managed properly, and are avid breeders.
Texel ewes are excellent mothers and take very good care of their lambs. Probably because of their background as milk sheep, Texel ewes tend to be heavy milkers aiding in fast growth of their lambs. The length of the breeding season of mature ewes is about 5 months, and Texel ewe lambs come into heat for the first time at about 7 months of age. Lambing percentages range from 140 – 200% depending on the year and the selection focus of the individual breeder.