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Henry Tustain champion again at Shearwell Thame Summer Sheep Fair

NE Mule trade both here and Exeter better than expected

North of England Mule sheep devotee Henry Tustain retained his 2021 title when once again presenting the champion pen of theaves at this year’s annual two-day Shearwell Thame Summer Sheep Fair at the beginning of August.

Mr Tustain, who farms with his family on the edge of the Cotswolds at Yarnhill Farm, Epwell, kept the annual NEMSA Perpetual Challenge Trophy given to the best run of 60 or more Mule theaves, topping the sale at £225 for his run that had lambs as hoggs. He remains one of the regular purchasers who make the annual pilgrimage north to source NEMSA ewe lambs for both himself and others at official Association sales at northern auction marts.

The high profile annual opening Mule shearling sale at Thame is traditionally regarded as an early season benchmark for future trade at the same year’s NEMSA gimmer lamb sales and while a packed ringside suggested that there would be sufficient interest in the NE Mule it was a brave man who would predict the trade.

The terribly dry conditions experienced in the south of England, including Oxfordshire, were a huge concern to all involved and the effect the weather might have on trade, with the extreme heat and lack of rain creating many uncertainties going forward in the near future.

However, considering the lack of grass, sheep kept their condition well, which was reflected in the trade, averages being close to last year's records in most breeds, North of England Mules themselves holding firm with an overall average to settle at £171, equalling the previous year.

Friday’s sale centred around NE Mules, both theaves and older ewes. As well as “King Henry,” David Morris, who farms at Brill, Aylesbury, and stood NEMSA theaves champions at Thame three years earlier, also caught the eye with a £205 pen. Stronger runs had their best pens over £190.

Double theaves were also a strong trade, with exhibitors cashing in on the youthful sheep after already getting two crops of lambs from her. Tommy Tustian topped at £190 and Conrad Lester, of F C Lester & Son, Buckingham, at £170.

The bottom end also looked a solid £148 /150, with very few Mules below this price. As for the middle ground, the patient buyer could pick up some great sheep for £160, but generally purchasers needed to spend over £170 to get the better all-round sheep. Full mouth ewes were up to £155, with many pens making over £130.

There was definitely a bonus to be paid for the theaves which had had lambs, leaving the vendor a reward for their hard work. The older sheep perhaps stole the show and were a great advertisement as to how the NE Mule can hold her value throughout her lifetime.

The annual Exeter Livestock Centre sale earlier the same week saw a larger entry of Mule shearlings as expected harder work to sell, but overall no disaster, with vendors of the best said by the mart to be more than happy with their efforts.

Good farming sorts were often £165-£175, with very little less than £150 despite several lean sheep forward. Given the circumstances a clearance rate of 85% and overall average of £164, back £13 on the year, was classed as a pleasing result.

In the show classes, well-known end user Emily Pearce, of Crediton, presented the champion pen, among an eye-catching run bought as lambs from Hawes last autumn, which sold to another NE Mule aficionado, Ellen Yandle, of Mamhead, who also secured another pen of Emily’s at £202, whose run of 109 was £6 dearer on the year to average £192.

Second prize ticket went to Maurice and Doreen Hockridge, also from Crediton, with their fine run of dark-headed sorts sourced from Bentham last autumn selling to £195, £192 and £190 – these only £3 down on the year. Third prize went to last year’s winner, Tony Dallyn, of Barnstaple, who claimed £195 for his pen.

On her annual southern road trip, NEMSA secretary Linda Allan, has, among others, again been spreading the word about both breed and Association, also building in a first-ever visit to the annual McCartneys Rural Honeybourne Sheep Fair, where there were several runs of lambs, mostly split into gimmers and wethers which were bred off NC Mules, gimmers getting a premium.


Pictured is Henry Tustain (right) receiving the NEMSA Trophy after his repeat Thame Summer Fair championship success from show judge Graham Humphrey, of Humphrey Livestock, Helmdon.

Picture by Greg Knight, Rural Shots

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