IN DEMAND: Mule gimmer lambs at Barnard Castle, where 4,500 were sold for just under £5 a head more than last year
IN DEMAND: Mule gimmer lambs at Barnard Castle, where 4,500 were sold for just under £5 a head more than last year

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 (NEMSA) 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,” he added.

“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,” he said.


BARNARD Castle Auction Mart managing director and auctioneer Libby Bell reported: “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.”

Ms Bell added: “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 John’s 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.”

She added: “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.”


WORTHY of mention are Harrison & Hetherington’s two early season NEMSA gimmer shearling sales.

The first sale at Lazonby saw well in excess of 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 about £1 on 2018.

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

Livestock manager and auctioneer Mark Richardson said: “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.

“The 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 £70 average was down about £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.

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 third sale of 7,672 gimmer lambs also proved a great success, with a packed ringside of buyers, all keen to secure lambs to run on for next year. Many more lambs could have been 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 third sale, seeing running lambs in high demand resulting in a rise of £13.41 on the year.”


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 pleasing trade and a better than expected overall average of £81, this slightly up on the year.

Auctioneer Andrew Maug-han said: “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.”


LEYBURN’S opening sale saw an entry of 1,611 head forward, compared to the previous year’s 1,530.

Auctioneer and manager Stephen Walker said: “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.”

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 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.”