Mattinsons make ready for annual North of
England Mule Vacation Tour!
August 4, 2020
David Mattinson and his wife, Catherine, farm around 180 acres on the edge of the Lake District at Cragg Farm, near Cockermouth, lambing 500 North of England Mule gimmer hoggs every year and also running 30 beef suckler cattle, mainly Limousin and British Blue crossbreds.
Alongside the farming business, they also run a contracting business covering a 20-mile radius between the fells and the West Cumbrian coast. The chopper and baler alone work on 4,000 acres in this area, as well as ploughing, drilling, lime and fertiliser spreading, muck and slurry spreading.
Also new this season, though rather hit by Covid-19, they have installed several camping pods on a hill on their farm, enjoying a great view over the Western Lake District hills. All in all, it’s a busy place at Cragg Farm!
Every autumn, David and Catherine enjoy a holiday tour of the auction marts over the North of England, taking in Hawes on the Monday and Tuesday, Wigton on the Wednesday and Carlisle on the Thursday, while the home leg is spent at Cockermouth. They call it their annual North of England Mule Vacation Tour!
Over the course of the week, which some years can be extended to take in Kirkby Stephen and Penrith, they buy in 500 North of England Mule gimmer hoggs. David says he looks for big strong, correct hoggs which will tup and have potential to sell on the following year - and over the years has developed quite a knack for picking up pens from further down the run which have gone on to do well.
“It’s not the top penners we are looking for, but the ones which will carry on and grow out some more that we look for,” he says. In 2018, his buying average was £102/head for the 500 hoggs bought in.
The Mattinsons have had Mules for as long as they can remember and, despite straying slightly and trying some Texel X hoggs a while back, they find the North of England Mule works best for them. “They are just so easy to work with and they lamb well, mothering is great, and they have lots of milk. To us they really are the perfect sheep!” enthuses David.
As David does so much contracting, especially in the Spring when the tractor work starts getting very busy on the contracting side of things, coinciding with the lambing, which begins in late March, their sheep need to be as easy to manage as possible.
David tends to do the early morning jobs in lambing, before leaving Catherine and the children - Thomas, 12, and seven-year-old Luke - to manage the day to day jobs of lambing, such as marking, tagging, feeding and getting them out to grass, and hopefully getting a 10-minute break sometime during the day to grab a bite of dinner!
They lamb all the hoggs inside to the Texel tup, as they find the lambs get to their feet quicker than the Suffolk tups they used to use, and also find they are easier to sell as store lambs, with buyers looking for white-faced lambs.
The Mule hoggs at Cragg Farm produce, on average, a 150% lambing average, off the farm, and, with the store lambs going through Longtown and Carlisle in late August through to November last year averaging £63, that was leaving the Mattinsons around £90 per hogg.
This is seen as a great return, which other breeds would struggle to compete with off such young sheep, especially when you take into account that the Mattinson lambs hardly see any cake. The twins do get a bit of creep just to keep them ticking over, but, as David says: “We probably aren’t a feed rep’s ideal customers, as if we use three or four tons of feed on the lambs it’s too much!”
If the week’s holiday touring the North of England Mule gimmer lambs sales is a bit of a busman’s holiday, the flip side is the showing and sale of the shearlings, which they sell through Cockermouth and Penrith. They have also supported the Royal Highland show since the North of England Mule classes were added.
David points out: “We aren’t professionals at it by any means and since it’s in the middle of our busy season we don’t always make it up to show them ourselves, leaving it in the capable hands of Neil Marston, who farms not too far away.” One year, David did manage to make it up to the RHS, he was chuffed to bits to take 1st and 2nd in the Hogg & Lamb class.
At the sales, the Mattinsons have gained quite a reputation for presenting some great shearlings, which, although they may not be fed up as much as some, go on and do well for customers, who return for more year upon year.
David has won the shearling classes several times at Cockermouth and last year his shearlings averaged £146 through the ring, so bearing in mind his buying-in costs, added to the lamb production, he reckons the North of England Mule gimmer is the absolute perfect sheep for his system.
“It’s a simple sheep the Mule,” David quips. “It does exactly what it says on the tin – a good lambing percentage and simple to work with…what more could you ask for?” As other North of England Mule users often attest: “Nothing really springs to mind in answering that one!
Sales of North of England Mules – ewes, shearlings and ewe lambs – will again be held at auction marts across the north throughout September and October. For details and dates visit the new-look association website at www.nemsa.co.uk NEMSA secretary Marion Hope is on 013873 71777, email