Beltex sheep arrived in the UK from Belgium in 1989 and with their double-muscle traits they brought a totally new dimension to British lamb production. The breed was originally developed as the Belgian Texel, by selecting and breeding for the traits found in culards (double-muscled sheep).
Belgian breeders were greatly assisted by Professor Roger Hanset of the University of Liege, who was a leader in the field of research into the genetics of double muscle and he also played a major role in the development of the Belgian Blue breed of cattle. His colleague, Professor Pascal Leroy carried out research confirming the superior carcase traits of the new breed which he described in his report as Texel DM (Double Muscle). The results of the combined efforts of science and stockmanship can be seen today in the superb conformation and gigots which is the Beltex trademark.
Tom Ashton was the first UK breeder to see these heavily-muscled Belgian Texels and be convinced that they had a role to play in the UK. However, the lack of sheep health schemes in Belgium put imports out of the question. However, thanks to the efforts of M. Paul Hardy, a Belgian ministry official, several flocks were soon tested and achieved the necessary health status to permit exports to the UK.
Tom Ashton and Dr Mike Tempest formed the Bel-Tex partnership which imported the first Beltex and gave the breed its Beltex name. M. Hardy, in his role as organiser of Belgimex, a Belgian breeders’ marketing co-operative, provided encouragement and the finance for the first Beltex stand at the Royal Show. Mary Dunlop and John McIlwraith established the first Beltex flocks in Scotland, while David Brown and Jim and William Carson led the way in Northern Ireland and introduced the breed to the province.