DIFFICULT AUTUMN: Barnard Castle Auction Mart
DIFFICULT AUTUMN: Barnard Castle Auction Mart

PLENTY of adverse factors, primarily severe weather with extremes of both hot and cold, stacked up to make life extremely difficult for the UK breeding sheep sector this year.

Like many others, breeders and users of the all-purpose North of England Mule gimmer lamb, which remains Britain’s most prolific sheep breed in terms of numbers and also the country’s most popular commercial sheep, were particularly hard hit.

High profile annual ewe lamb sales at northern auctions marts this autumn failed to reach the heady heights seen in 2017 in terms of both numbers sold and overall selling averages. The feedback from these marts is very similar and tells its own story of a tough and challenging season.

BARNARD CASTLE/ST JOHN’S CHAPEL

BARNARD Castle Auction Mart reported that breeding sheep sales in Teesdale and Weardale got off to a better than expected start with the Mule shearlings fixture at Barnard Castle Mart and while the sale average of £126.90 was £17.22 down on the year stronger sheep were a marvellous trade.

Next on the agenda was the Barnard Castle Mule gimmer lamb sale, where an entry of 4,500 head averaged £90.27. Despite being down £13.53 on 2017, this would be one of the best averages achieved this season, said to be due to the consistency in quality.

The Weardale sale at St John’s Chapel Mart for slightly later born lambs from very high farms saw an overall average for the 2,100 Mule gimmer lambs on parade of £81.26, just £3 down on 2017.

Managing director and auctioneer Libby Bell said: “Autumn 2018 has been a difficult season.

“The dry summer and lack of grass resulted in Mule shearlings being difficult to place, particularly at the earlier sales, and the anticipation of winter costs and lack of fodder have certainly knocked confidence, resulting in the drop in prices for the breeding sheep. However, our two dales marts have achieved very satisfactory sales and I feel this is down to a number of factors – the stockmanship and quality of the animals presented, which is a credit to all the vendors, and the support of the buyers both regular and new. A tremendous atmosphere has prevailed at all the sales and this is down to the enthusiasm and goodwill of all concerned. Auction marts are the backbone of the livestock industry. Don’t forget – use us or lose us.”

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

THERE was a similar story from Harrison & Hetherington in relation to its NEMSA gimmer lamb sales at Carlisle, Lazonby, Kirkby Stephen and Middleton-in-Teesdale.

At Carlisle, 2,094 lambs were sold at an average of £97.74, down £4.94 on the year, compared to 2,248 head in 2017 at £102.68.

The first Lazonby Alston Moor sale saw 7,786 lambs sold at an average of £80.94, down £14 on the year, compared to 9,039 head in 2017, with the third Lazonby sale seeing 3,799 NEMSA lambs go under the hammer at an overall average of £61.13, compared to the previous year’s 3,130 head and average of £77.51, representing a fall of £16.38.

Auctioneer James Little said: “Top end tupping lambs met a strong local and national trade similar to last year’s rates. However, due to the poor demand for shearlings in the south, smaller running lambs were much more difficult to sell.”

The total number of NEMSA gimmer lambs sold at Kirkby Stephen and Middleton this year was 11,677, a fall of 12 per cent on the year, with the vast majority – 9,419 head compared to 10.498 in 2017 – sold at Kirkby at an average of £86.44, down £17.38 on the year.

The overall average for both sales together was £84.85, a fall of 16 per cent on the year.

Mark Richardson, livestock manager and auctioneer at Kirkby Stephen, commented: “A major contributing factor to this was the extreme drought through summer, particularly in the southern regions, which meant many producers down there had either poor or no trade for their shearlings, which had a direct effect on demand for gimmer lambs.

“Also, many were short of grass to buy lambs, even when the lamb sales came around. In addition, I’m sure we still suffered from the extreme bad winter/spring weather conditions, especially in lambing time 2018, which I feel made many sheep farmers think twice about keeping more sheep, with many opting to not replace as many ewes and even cut back on their flock size.”

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HEXHAM/TOW LAW

HEXHAM and Northern Marts’ opening ewe lamb sale attracted 1,780 head, most from NEMSA members and the majority ex-North of England Blackface ewes. The overall average of £110.56 was down just £3.20 on 2017.

The second sale saw 1,850 NEMSA lambs go under the hammer to average £86.23, down £16.10 on 2017.

Auctioneer Trevor Simpson commented: “The first sale is always for top draw lambs, which were again purchased by both regular local and distant buyers as their replacements. It was a good show of lambs and we were pleased with trade on the year.

“At the second sale, due to the poor spring and lack of grass this summer, lambs were not as strong. Also, running lamb purchasers have been selling their shearlings at less money and are also unable to sell numbers, resulting in the drop in lamb prices, in particular the small runners.”

The traditional Tow Law sale of Mule ewe lambs, out of Swaledale ewes, sold at Hexham on behalf of NEMSA’s Weardale branch saw 5,810 head average £84.23, a fall of £10.02 on the year.

Mr Simpson said: “Here again, due to the poor spring and summer, lambs overall were smaller, although the strong tupping and running lambs were easily sold. However, small runners were hard to cash. This was due to reduced rates in the shearling prices and many purchasers still with numbers not sold from last year’s purchases.”

KENDAL/LANCASTER

NORTH West Auctions again hosted the Kendal branch of NEMSA Mule gimmer lamb sale, alongside the annual sale at the Lancaster site, which included NEMSA-bred gimmers.

At Kendal J36, the “Stars in Your Eyes”’ Mule gimmer lambs highlight saw the largest entry out to show yet.

While the top pens sold to an equally strong trade as the previous year, the overall market average finished at £71, down from £95 in 2017. Numbers were also 15 per cent down on the year at 7,229.

Auctioneer Ian Atkinson said: “The previous 12 months has not been kind on the upland and hill farmers in the Kendal and Lake District area. A very wet winter, also including the Beast from the East, made for a tough spring, followed by a very dry summer in which many farms’ grass burnt, meaning a shortage of grass throughout the summer months.

“However, once again, there were plenty of good quality bred lambs on offer and credit goes to the vendors, but with tough growing conditions this summer lambs were the smallest seen for some time.

“This, combined with a dry summer and shortage of grass in the south, meant gimmer shearlings were very difficult to market, which led to less demand from the southern buyers, many wanting to purchase their sheep for less, or some not wanting to purchase any gimmer lambs and retaining their shearlings instead.”

Lancaster enjoyed a buoyant trade on a tough year, finishing with a very respectable average of £78, £14 back on the previous year with a few less numbers of lambs sold.

“A large quantity of tupping lambs was available, with the dry summer suiting the wet land in the forest of Bowland area,” explained Mr Atkinson.

PENRITH

PENRITH Auction Mart normally sells around 9,000 gimmer lambs at its main sale and this year was no different, though, like others, the overall average was down by £10.50 at £80.25. However, auctioneer Andrew Maughan said plenty of runs of lambs still made £90 to £100.