The massive two-day sale of North of England Mule gimmer lambs at Hawes is one of the diary bookings in a many a shepherd’s calendar every September, when sheep farmers from all over England converge on the small market town in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales to buy breeding stock.
Around 30,000 lambs are sold over the sale, a high profile annual gathering where old friends, buyers and sellers catch up with each other.
Henry Tustian is one of the regular purchasers who make the annual pilgrimage north, generally buying about 1200 lambs for both himself and others. He farms on the edge of the Cotswolds at Yarnhill Farm, Epwell, with his wife Julie and son, Tommy, who has just left school and is keen to farm.
The family moved onto the farm in 1970 and it now runs to 1200 acres, some owned, though a good deal rented from the nearby Upton Estate. They have 200 acres run as arable, growing barley, wheat and maize. The rest is grass, with 65 suckler cattle running alongside the Mules.
The Tustians operate a ‘flying” flock,’ selling all the lambs bought the previous year as lambed theaves at Bicester and Rugby, along with a few selling at home too. This works well for the farm, as the Upton Estate uses a lot of the best sheep ground in the winter for horse training and events.
With space at a premium, not having sheep on the fields during the winter allows them to be fresh and clean for the lambing hoggs in the Spring.
All the hoggs are run with the tup. They generally scan at around 150% and run with a lamb apiece. All twin lambs are taken off after 24 hours, allowing them time to get plenty of colostrum. Henry also feels this allows the Mule hogg to get used to looking for two lambs, aiding it for the following year.
The hoggs are tupped with the Beltex, which are easy to lamb and quick on their feet, making them great for hoggs to lamb – and they kill out well too on the deadweight. Lambs are weaned by June 20 each year, which allows time for the hoggs to freshen up. The lambs are sorted in early June, with the finished lambs sold deadweight to Farmers Fresh at Kenilworth.
Henry reckons up to 75% of the lambs can go in this first draft and the second draft at weaning. For the former, he aims for a live weight between 28-32kgs when these ones go, with the rest finished on roots and grass, with no concentrates. These lambs are sold from January to March, aiming for 45-50kgs..
The ewe lambs bought out of Hawes, Cockermouth and, if needs be, Lazonby, get fresh ground when they come in and winter out on roots after tupping. They are only fed concentrates for three weeks after lambing and for four weeks prior to selling, making them a cheap, low maintenance option.
Henry says: “We have tried many breeds over the years and we always come to the same conclusion – the North of England Mule is the king of commercial sheep, producing a great fat lamb off hoggets which is well raised and finished quickly.”