Dwayne Shiels from Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, is one of the Ireland’s up-and-coming Texel breeders. The 24-year-old established Woodtown Texels three years ago and has been going from strength to strength since.
Dwayne studied animal and crop production at University College Dublin, graduating in 2016. He has just completed his second year of his PhD with Teagasc Athenry and University of Edinburgh, in the area of ewe and lamb behaviour and lamb mortality.
Farming with his father George and brother Gerard in Woodtown, Ramelton and Fanad, the Shiels run two pedigree Texel flocks, a flock of 150 purebred Milford ewes and a commercial flock used to breed recipients for pedigree embryos and commercial sheep for showing.
Dividing his time between his PhD and the farm can be difficult at times. Dwayne acknowledged it wouldn’t be possible without the support from his family at home
“Both my father and brother are a massive help with me being away during the week. I wouldn’t be able to keep sheep or have any of the recent success without both their help,” he said. His mother, Marie, also helps out, keeping the book work up to date.
From the time Dwayne was able to walk he was interested in the sheep. “I spent every minute of my time when I was younger on the farm with my grandfather, Pat.
“He was by far the biggest influence on my life, both farming and non-farming. He taught me everything I know and played a huge roll in my farming life,” Dwayne said. Pat passed away in 2015, leaving many fond memories with the Shiels; he would sure be delighted with their success to date.
Woodtown Texels was established in December 2015, with the purchase of five in-lamb ewes. Dwayne had always wanted to get into pedigree Texels and when he won a €1,500 award for his professional work experience in UCD he decided to make the investment.
“I got the money on the Friday morning and had it spent, and a lot along with it, by the Friday night. It gave me the excuse to bite the bullet and start up and I haven’t looked back since,” Dwayne said.
Gerard then added the 4th prize hogget ewe from Blessington Premier Sale in 2016 and Dwayne added their best purchase to date, Sportsman Aurora, from Carlisle in late 2016.
“We have since added females from Raphoe In-lamb Sale and seven more from the UK and Ireland,” Dwayne added.
The Shiels brothers purchased their first two rams last year, a joint purchase of £7.5K Knap Vital Spark and £3.8K Lowe Reis Axeman.
This year, Gerard set up his own flock, Kindrum Texels. The young Donegal man is a keen footballer and balances work on the farm with representing his club and county on the playing field.
The brothers now have 18 ewes between them and intend to continue to build on this slowly, focusing more on quality than quantity.
Competitions and prizes
The Shiels’ first major win with the Texels was Finn Valley Agricultural Show with Greenhill Snowy in 2017. Gerard went back and retained the title, winning Overall Champion with Snowy again this year.
2018 has been the best year yet for the Donegal duo. Dwayne won first prize with Barbie Girl in the novice ewe lamb class at the Irish Texel Sheep Society All Ireland Championships in June; their first time showing at the national event.
Barbie Girl has since gone on to win Female Champion and Overall Texel Champion at the Donegal Texel Championship, along with first prize in five other shows.
Winning the Donegal Texel Championship stands out for Dwayne in particular. “I couldn’t have imagined it when we first started up less than 3 years ago. To be competing with some of the top and highest regarded breeders in the country was great,” he said.
Gerard won the Irish Texel Sheep Society ‘Win a ewe’ competition earlier this year at the National Sheep Breeders Association Championships, taking home a double 5-star Texel ewe and a €300 voucher for the Texel Premier Sale this month in Blessington.
In July, the Shiels sold their first Texel ram lamb for pedigree breeding. “We’re delighted he’s gone to an excellent flock in Northern Ireland. Hopefully he goes on and breeds well,” Dwayne said.
The Milford and commercial flocks have also seen a lot of success in the show ring. The Shiels won female, male and overall Milford Champion at their main show in 2016 and 2017, and male and reserve overall champion in 2018.
They have also recently lifted two national titles with the commercials, All Ireland crossbred ewe lamb and All Ireland crossbred ewe.
Young Shepherd of the Year
Dwayne won Young Shepherd of the Year 2018; his second time winning the competition. In 2015, he represented Ireland at the European final and finished 5th overall.
The competition wasn’t run in 2016 and 2017, but back again this year, sponsored by Irish Country Meats, Dwayne won by the narrowest of margins. Half a point separated him from the strong competition at Sheep 2018, which took place in Athenry last month.
“I’m looking forward to representing Ireland again and a second chance at the European title,” Dwayne said eagerly.
Aside from the sheep, Dwayne has also represented Donegal for the last two years at the Irish National Ploughing Championships and took home an All Ireland gold medal last year in Tullamore.
Dwayne will continue to work hard for the remaining two years of his PhD and looks forward to seeing where it will bring him. In September, he will travel to New Zealand for two months as part of the Walsh Fellowship Overseas Travel Award.
The Shiels hope to keep improving both the Texel and Milford flocks and are always aiming to better themselves year on year.
“This year we have had our best group of lambs to sell and these have started moving already.“We are going to flush five ewes and do embryo transfer, and AI the rest of our ewes this year, so we are already looking forward to 2019 lambs” Dwayne concluded.