What a difference a year makes

Trade for NEMSA gimmer lambs improves after cautious opening

The headline says it all. While the UK breeding sheep sector faced plenty of well-documented adverse factors in 2018, notably extreme and severe weather conditions countrywide, 12 months down the line 2019 was a completely different story, producing renewed optimism and confidence.

The welcome change in fortunes was reflected at the North of England Mule Sheep Association’s high profile annual gimmer lamb sales at northern auction marts this autumn.

Close on 150,000 NEMSA-tagged ewe lambs went under the hammer this year, very similar to 2018, and while early trade was best described as ‘cautious’ sales averages increased as the season progressed, according to the majority of marts.

NEMSA’s national chairman, North Yorkshire sheep farmer Kevin Wilson said: “After a guarded start Mule gimmer lambs were increasingly sought after, with buyers positive and demand rising at later sales.

“All season long there has been a solid requirement for breeding females and Mule gimmer lambs proved as popular as ever with buyers the length and breadth of the UK, both familiar and new faces. We thank them all for their ongoing support and our northern marts for continuing to serve us well.

“Tribute, too, is due to our growing army of breeders. There is little doubt that lambs were stronger and presented in better condition this year. This is true testimony to their efforts and their skills in continuing to produce high quality ewe lambs.

“However, as breeders of the all-purpose North of England Mule, which remains one of the UK’s most popular commercial sheep for both prime lamb production and as a Continental cross female, we must continue not only to maintain the exacting standards of the breed, but also seek to enhance and improve its quality at every opportunity. This can only benefit our buyers and users – shepherds UK-wide.”

Here, we give feedback from northern marts staging NEMSA sales:

BENTHAM

A total of 15,709 North of England Mule gimmer lambs were sold at the first two Bentham sale fixtures in 2019, an increase on the year of 15%.  The first sale averaged £77.27, up 48p on the year, while the second sale, comprising probably 95% running lambs, averaged £66.08, down 34p on the year.

Auctioneer Stephen Dennis commented on a strong trade and plenty of interest for top pens, boosted by keen interest in an outstanding pre-sale show on the eve of the sale.  The next draw down of potential tupping lambs were harder to place, quickly falling into the price range of strong runners, with small running lambs selling at increased rates to the previous year.

BARNARD CASTLE/ST JOHNS CHAPEL

Barnard Castle & Teesdale Farmers Auction Market Co Managing Director and Auctioneer Libby Bell reported: ”Barnard Castle breeding sheep sales got off to a flying start, with Mule shearlings averaging £135.97, £9.07 up on 2018, and numbers being slightly up on the year. A marvellous show of sheep with regards to both quality and condition were forward.

“Next on the agenda was Barnard Castle’s Mule gimmer lamb sale, a catalogue of 4,500 with similar numbers sold.  A marvellous average of £95.15 – up £4.88 – was achieved.  The power, quality and consistency of the lambs on offer at this sale can never be overstated and all credit must be given to the vendors for presenting such an outstanding show of stock.

Late September saw another fantastic Mule gimmer lamb sale at St Johns Chapel with a catalogue of 2,600 being presented to a full ringside of buyers, resulting in an average of £81.15, only 11p down on 2018 for 350 more sold. This sale has gone from strength to strength and again had a tremendous show of lambs with regards to quality.

“Once again the North of England Mule sheep sales have gone very well for us, and as the Auctioneer I can never offer enough thanks to the vendors for their stockmanship and commitment, and to the purchasers for their continued support. It really is their goodwill that secures the future for our ‘Dales Marts.’”

CARLISLE /LAZONBY/ KIRKBY STEPHEN/MIDDLETON-IN-TEESDALE

Worthy of mention are Harrison & Hetherington’s two early season NEMSA gimmer shearling sales. The 1st sale at Lazonby saw well over 3,000 sheep sold to average £128.50, a rise of £4.32 on the year, while the 2,700 shearlings sold at Carlisle averaged £124.55, up around £1 on 2018.

The Kirkby Stephen NEMSA ewe lambs opener, the first for H&H, saw just over 12,500lambs sold to average £83.28 and while this was down £3.16 on the year, it is well worth noting that the annual turnout comprised 1,500 more running lambs.

Kirkby’s livestock manager and auctioneer, Mark Richardson, commented: “The very strongest and best tupping lambs were highly sought after once again by buyers and were equally as dear, if not dearer than last year. Smaller running lambs were also a shade dearer, while stronger runners/smaller tupping types would be the best value.”

Middleton-in-Teesdale’s sale attracted an increased entry of 2,500 head, which proved popular with a ringside from near and far. Trade mirrored that of Kirkby, with medium size lambs best bought. The circa £70 average was down around £2.

At the Carlisle Latter Fair, a catalogued entry of 5,235 saw just short of 1,000 more sheep sold on the year, with flying trade for tupping lambs, while running lambs also met a firm enquiry.  While the overall average of £83.82 was down on the year it nevertheless proved another successful sale.

Likely the best trade was seen at the main Lazonby Alston Moor highlight, with all types good to sell to a packed ringside, with an abundance of buyers present. The 13,500 head sold to an overall average of £ 82.99, a solid rise of £5.54 on year.

The Lazonby 3rdsale of 7,672 gimmer lambs also proved agreat success, with a packed ringside of buyers, all keen to secure lambs to run on for next year. Many more lambs could have been easily sold. A sale average of £75.01 showed a rise of £13.41 on 2018.

Auctioneer James Little noted: “At Lazonby, local demand for tupping lambs remained strong and would be in line with earlier sales. Stronger demand for shearlings in the south, along with a better grass season, saw trade for running lambs come on stronger at later sales. This trend was also seen to an extent at Alston Moor, but really came to a head at the 3rd sale, seeing running lambs in high demand resulting in a rise of £13.41 on the year.”

CCM SKIPTON

The traditional pipe-opener to CCM’s 2019 breeding sheep season, the annual gimmer shearling fixture, saw North of England Mules create the usual buzz, with buyers keen to replenish their breeding flocks.

The overall selling average of £137.33 showed a healthy increase of £15.85 on the year. Livestock sales manager Ted Ogden commented: “This was a good response from buyers, showing the call for quality Mule shearlings. However, a commercial sort was easily bought. Power and quality were definitely the watch words.“

In September, the first major sale for NEMSA gimmer lambs set the season off well, when an increased entry of 6,929 head from breeders right across the district and buyers countrywide sold to an overall average of £90.75 per head, just 0.47p down on 2018. “Trade was better than anticipated and again quality sorts being easily sold,” noted Mr Ogden.

At September’s second sale, a tidy entry of 6,470 lambs sold away nicely, while still being sensibly priced for all concerned, with an overall average was £77.23, up £5.51 on the year. Sales at CCM continued fortnightly and the 3rdsale in early October was £71 average, and the 4thsale £61.

COCKERMOUTH

Mitchells Auction Mart’s John Wharton commented: “We started the Autumn sales season with a North of England Mule gimmer shearling sale which was a flyer, having buyers travelling from all four corners of the UK to purchase good Mule shearlings which lamb down and rear two lambs comfortably.  The sale average was a wonderful £129.44.  Our Mule 2 shear section was also well supported.

“Two weeks later, we staged the sale of 10,415 NEMSA gimmer lambs, which is regarded as one of the most improved sales centres for quality and type of the last decade. This, I suggest, is because our Lake District vendors have kept carcase to the Swaledale ewe, as well as type.

“Sale average was a very pleasing £77.60 a slight increase on 2018. This is a true sale with full runs of lambs and the auction had a purchasers’ list of 104 buyers, including many new customers.” 

HAWES

Improved averages were seen at all three NEMSA gimmer lambs sales at Hawes Farmers Auction Mart. The traditional and keynote two-day opener attracted a solid turnout of 23,459 head, compared to 23,036 the previous year, and they averaged £80.38, a small, yet significant improvement on 2018’s £79.06.

The second sale of 6,262 lambs (2018 7,035) averaged £69.74, a nice rise on the previous year’s £63.53. While numbers at the third sale decreased from 1,639 to 1,394, the average again showed a very significant increase – up from £51.27 to £67.40.

Chairman Andrew Pratt commented: “Confidence in Mule gimmer lambs increased as the season progressed following a cautious start. Small running lambs, especially, became more sought after in the later sales as demand went up.”

HEXHAM/TOW LAW

Hexham and Northern Marts’ opening ewe lamb sale produced an overall average of £101.84, with the second sale averaging £95.55.

Auctioneer Trevor Simpson commented:“The turnout of lambs at the first sale were all bred from Northumberland-type Blackface ewes and mainly all tupping lambs. An excellent show of lambs presented in good bloom was considerably easier on the year.

Hexham & Northern Marts Annual Prize Show and Sale of 5805 Mule Gimmer Lambs (Ex Swaledale) Traditionally the Tow Law Sale at Hexham Mart Thursday 26th September 2019 Judged by Julie Brough, Clappers Farm Langrigg, Aspatria (Pens of 10) and Mr John Bell, Frosterley and Mr Geoffrey Carrick, High Crossgill (Run of 100 or more).

“The second sale again saw the majority bred from the Blackface ewe, with the tupping lambs following the trade of the first sale, but the running lambs met a fast trade and finished well up on the year.”

The traditional Tow Law sale of Mule gimmer lambs, again all out of Swaledale ewes, sold at Hexham on behalf of NEMSA”s Weardale Branch, had an entry of 5,805 head to average £84.13, +20p.

“A great show was forward, with a packed ring of both local and distant buyers from the North of Scotland, Worcester and Wales who attend this sale annually, along with new faces to this centre, resulted in the stronger tupping lambs easily sold, but others harder to sell, though stronger and smaller running lambs were easy to sell,” said Mr Simpson.

KENDAL/LANCASTER

North West Auctions J36 great annual show and sale on behalf of NEMSA Kendal Branch began with the traditional ‘Stars in Your Eyes’ show evening the night before. It continues to grow in popularity each year and produced a new record high price of £360 for the champion lamb.

The main sale had an entry of over 7,000, with trade remaining firm throughout. Top pens of gimmer lambs and tupping lambs sold to a very similar trade to previous years, with smaller tupping and running lambs a lot sharper than in 2018. The overall average of £75.60 was a welcome rise on the previous year’s £71.

Lancaster’s annual highlight included an entry of 1500Mule gimmers, which again attracted a good following of both local and travelled buyers. NEMSA lambs averaged £77.80, virtually identical to 2018.

Kendal’s 2ndsale produced strong trade for lambs that will grow into decent shearlings, with smaller types selling to their value. An increased entry of 787 lambs forward for the sale saw NEMSA lambs average in the mid-sixties.

Auctioneer Ian Atkinson said:  “What a difference a year makes for breeding sheep sales. Throughout the season there has been strong demand for breeding females, many returning and new faces being present this year, with the Mule gimmer lamb proving as popular as ever.

“A good grass growing season saw lambs forward to the sale stronger and many southern buyers this year not affected with a shortage of grass due the drought conditions of the previous year leading to stronger trades and averages. “

LEYBURN

Leyburn’s opening NEMSA sale saw an entry of 1,611 head forward, compared to the previous year’s 1,530. “Lambs in general looked stronger than ever without any sacrifice to quality. The overall average of £82.30, down exactly £1 on 2018, was very well received by the sellers, who also remembered last year’s sale faring better than most that year,” noted Auctioneer & Manager, Stephen Walker.

The second sale turnout of 680 lambs saw anyone looking for decent types to tup or run certainly not disappointed. Plenty of eager bidders pushed the overall average to £75, up £14.10p on the previous year.

The good trade continued for the third and final sale, which saw lambs average £60, a very satisfactory result for the smaller lambs on offer.

Mr Walker added: “All in all, the sale of Mule gimmer lambs has fared fairly well this year and although trade at some of the earlier sales may have disappointed, they recovered well to prove that the Mule is still a very popular sheep to breed a prime lamb or a Continental cross female.

LONGTOWN

C&D Auction Marts’ annual breeding sheep sale at Longtown had a catalogue entry of 7,967, with buyers represented from across the UK and trade very good throughout.

John Walton, auctioneer and head of sheep sales, said: “The main sale of Greyface Mule ewe lambs were an outstanding quality show, with buyers again present from a wide area. Strong tupping lambs were seen to be less money on the year, with running lambs considerably dearer.  The sale averaged £76.56, down £1.69 on the year, with all vendors happy with the day’s trading.The 1,116 NEMSA lambs averaged £77.51.

“The second sale attracted the biggest ring of buyers seen all season; with many from the south of Wales, plus another good quality show forward. “

PENRITH

Penrith & District Farmers’ Mart’s opening annual sale of 9,000 North of England Mule gimmer lambs, a similar number on the year, produced a very pleasing trade and a better than expected overall average of £81, this slightly up on the year.

Auctioneer Andrew Maughan commented:“One of the most even runs of lambs was forward, with many runs from local farmers notably getting better and better each year in both colour and carcase.

“Most vendors were reporting being up £3-£5 a head and quite a few new ones said they were highly delighted with their trade. The number of buyers around the ring ensured spirited bidding throughout.

“The second sale of 500 head also attracted a good ringside of buyers, ensuring a strong trade, with Mule gimmers lambs selling exceptionally well, the majority of runners averaging £70.79.”

WIGTON

Wigton Auction Mart’s standalone NEMSA sale attracted a larger entry of 2,580 lambs (2018 2,076).David Bowman, of Hopes Auctioneers, said: “A super selection of complete run lambs produced a satisfactory average of £74.55’ reflecting a slight reduction on the year (2018 £79.36). Strong tupping lambs were good to sell and more could easily have been sold, with increased interest for the genuine runners.”