Deoi and Margaret Hughes

North Wales isn’t the first place which springs to mind when thinking about North of England Mules, but Deio and Margaret Hughes from near Caernarfon have been fitting the mule into their system since moving there in 2006. They work in a shared contract farming agreement with the owner, Lord Newborough, who decided to take the farm into hand after it had been previously let out to several local farmers for grass.

Initially the farm they took over ran to 600 acres, but with more of the Glynllifon Estate coming into hand it now runs to around 1200 acres, a lot of which has been reseeded. The farm carries around 1250 breeding ewes, split between the North of England Mules and Beulahs, as well as 220 Aberdeen-Angus suckler cattle, including followers.

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The farm which is set on the coast just south of Caernarfon, is fully organic and interestingly is run on a New Zealand system, which is proving rather topical at the moment in light of some recent comments. Organic farming does tend to lend itself to a preconceived view of beardy townies with a few acres of land telling the rest of the agricultural world how to do things, but make no mistake, Ty-Mawr totally shuns this image, and really shows the true potential of a winning combination, the North of England Mule and the Beltex as a terminal sire.

They run the Beulah ewes with the Texel and Suffolk tups, but found they couldn’t get the confirmation, quality and weight they were looking for and had noticed the North of England Mules seemed to be doing a good job elsewhere so thought he would try some. It turned out to be an inspired decision.

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Deio settled on using the Beltex rams over the North of England mules a few years ago as they are sharp from birth and provide a great carcases. “We lamb everything outside, so they have to be up quickly. Beltex lambs are easily born and suckle straight away. The mule ewe is very motherly and milks really well, in fact any triplets are kept on the sheep as they can handle them, and the ewes last well too, which is ideal for our system,” he says.

Mules scan at about 190% and lamb in late February/early March. They don’t receive any supplementary feeding on the whole, with just two tonnes of organic feed blocks supplied for the flock last year. Lambs are finished off grass, receiving no creep feed at all, and many sold fat straight off their mothers. “We saw a big jump in the profitability of the flock when we started using the North of England mule and Beltex crosses, notes Deio. “It’s the ideal combination that suits our system down to the ground.”

Some 50 acres a year are reseeded, using a clover ley with chicory, which is big baled whole-crop the first year and used for winter feeding for the cattle, but this also provides excellent grazing for the sheep in the following years and provides grass all year round for the ewes and lambs. Ewes are dosed twice a year against fluke and dosed after lambing with a combined fluke and worm drench.

Most lambs are sold fat from the farm on a deadweight basis with 50 lambs a week being sold through Lord Newborough’s Rhug Estate shop in Corwen, which has its own cutting plant and supplies Michelin Star restaurants around the world with its organic lamb and a premium p/kg is paid for the Mule/Beltex cross lambs.

Lambs start being sold from mid May onwards, aiming for a carcass weight of bout 20kg and last year were making around £5/kg or £100 a head. With most of the mules lambing twins this leaves £200 per sheep. Prime lambs are also sold through various abattoirs such as West Country Foods and Dunbia. The last batch through, late last season, were making 215p/kg for 45kg lambs- not bad on a New Zealand system with low inputs, and grass finishing.