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Praise all round from NEMSA following unprecedented gimmer lamb trade

The times may have been unprecedented in the history of British agriculture with the continuing trials and tribulations of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the welcome truth of it was that trade, too, turned out to be unprecedented throughout the North of England Mule Sheep Association’s high profile 2020 gimmer lamb sales season.

Some 149,000 NEMSA-tagged ewe lambs, 2,000 up on the previous year, were successfully sold this autumn at official annual sales staged by northern auction marts – and in every single instance averages were not only up across the board, but also well up in most cases.

Early indications were promising. Mule shearling ewe trade is often an excellent barometer as a sign of things to come. And so it proved to be, as strong shearling sales figures were maintained when North of England Mule gimmer lambs went under the hammer. Without fail, every single auction mart was upbeat about ewe lamb trade.

NEMSA’s national chairman, third generation Mule breeder Chris Harrison, who farms at Coatlith Hill, Alston, enthused: “To say we were pleasantly surprised with ewe lamb trade this year is an understatement. It’s fair to say we were, in fact, bowled over and our warmest thanks and continuing appreciation go to all who helped make this outcome possible – breeders, buyers and auction marts one and all.

“It is true testament in uncertain times to all the hard graft and unstinting efforts again put in by NEMSA breeders. They richly deserved the recognition and earned their just rewards, which would, of course, not have been possible without the continuing support of our buyers and users, who once again turned out in force to support us at this year’s sales.

“Many, some familiar faces among them, again travelled long distances from all corners of the country, including our old friends from the deep south in Devon and Cornwall. And while they paid more this year, they didn’t appear too overly concerned, further underpinning the demand for and continuing popularity of the North of England Mule UK-wide.”

Mr Harrison commented: “Huge thanks must also go to our auction marts, who pulled out all the stops to ensure the ‘sales must go on’ despite Covid-19 and made a grand job of it too, putting special, often far-reaching measures in place in order to meet government guidelines on the all-important health and safety of both vendors and buyers, and, of course, their own staff.

“Some marts continued to stage safe distancing prize shows, while others offered valuable bolt-on facilities such as live streaming of sales and online bidding for those buyers who couldn’t make it in person. One thing’s for sure – all went that extra mile and we cannot thank them enough.

“One well-known auctioneer commented that after some sheep producers had briefly looked elsewhere, the North of England Mule gimmer lamb bounced back to prove herself as possibly the most resilient, long-standing and prolific breeding sheep in the UK, resulting in an abundance of buyers from all parts of the country.

“And another eminent auctioneer waxed lyrical about the enduring popularity of the North of England Mule, describing her as ‘the queen of commercial lowland breeding sheep.’ Who are we to disagree with either of them!”

The annual round-up from northern marts staging NEMSA ewe lamb sales, plus appropriate comment from auctioneers, is as follows:


Undoubtedly, the best show of Mule gimmer lambs seen to date at the opening sale, according to Auctioneer Stephen Dennis, with buyers keen to purchase quality, top pens selling at premium rates.

He said: “The absence of inferior sorts and keen demand from an audience that included a number of new faces resulted in an overall sale average for 9,397 lambs of £112.89, up £35.62 on the year.

“At the second sale, quality was again ahead of 2019, with more tupping lambs forward than normal, producing an overall average for 4,921 head of £90.04, up £28 on the year, although a £20 uplift is probably a better reflection, bearing in mind the quality.”

Total numbers sold 14,925 (2019 15,709)


Barnard Castle & Teesdale Farmers Auction Market Co held its annual two-day Mule gimmer lamb prize show and sale. Day 1 was open to both members & non members of NEMSA with an entry of 2,000.

Managing Director and Auctioneer Libby Bell reported: “This new sales fixture achieved a marvellous average of £106.74 and credit for this must be given to the vendors for presenting an outstanding show of stock and many thanks to both local and travelled buyers for their support.”

Day 2 comprised 4,200 NEMSA gimmer lambs. Libby Bell commented: “Once again a tremendous show of lambs were forward, resulting in a fantastic average of £113.36. This average only confirms the quality on offer at this noted sale. Many thanks to the vendors and both regular and new purchasers for their support.”


At Carlisle’s Latter Fair Sale, 4,752 gimmer lambs were forward, including three new vendors. Harrison & Hetherington’s Auctioneer James Little noted: “The show of lambs in Carlisle is the stuff of legends and this year’s offering certainly didn’t disappoint, being a great credit to each and every consignor, making the job of the auctioneer an extremely pleasurable one indeed. A sale average of £108.75 showed a rise of £25.91 per head on the year.”


CCM’s two opening annual gimmer lambs sales staged on behalf of NEMSA’s Skipton branch took place with safe distancing pen-judged prize shows, both fixtures again proving extremely popular and successful.

The keynote early season opener produced better than anticipated trade with 7,045 head averaging £104.81, up £14.06 on the year. At the second sale, trade stepped up another gear when the 6,185 gimmer lambs levelled at £102.26, an increase of £25.03. Premium prices were once more seen for top end pens.

At the third sale, 2,106 ewe lambs averaged £90.74 (+£19.60), while at the fourth sale there was another much improved breed average of £82.79 (+£22.40)

CCM’s sales manager Ted Ogden said: “The sales went ahead as normal, albeit with social distancing and crowd control regulations in place, but the enduring popularity of the North of England Mule shines on.

“Lambs were shown in good order and trade was definitely stronger all season long, with runners at our mid to late season sales seeing great rises in averages on the year. Still, quality shone through, with show lambs and top pens receiving strong interest at the early sales, rewarding consignors for producing lambs with body and bone that will go on to make strong breeding ewes with longevity, surely the ultimate aim of this queen of commercial lowland breeding sheep.”


Mitchells Auction Mart conducted its annual Lakeland prize show and sale of 10,180 Mule gimmer lambs, with auctioneer John Wharton commenting: “All runs of lambs looked their best in front of a well travelled auction of prospective buyers, who were hugely impressed with the quality of breeding from all consignments and noted that this sale centre is now becoming one of the largest sales of gimmer lambs in Cumbria. The most notable lift in trade was the running type lambs being very easily cashed. The full sale average was an outstanding £98.15, up on the previous year’s £77.60.”


Hawes Farmers Auction Mart Co Ltd staged its annual two-day sale of North of England Mule gimmer lambs on behalf of NEMSA, when another robust turnout of 20,827 head sold to an overall average £109.01, well up on the previous year’s £80.38.

The second sale of 7,913 Mule ewe lambs head averaged £90.34, again a solid increase on 2019’s £69.74, while the third sale saw 2,150 head average £86.20 (up £18.80 on 2019)

Chairman Andrew Pratt noted: “Breeding sheep prices across the board have mirrored the increased primestock price rises.”


Hexham and Northern Marts’ opening prize show and sale for Mule ewe lambs (ex North of England Blackface ewes) saw the Number 4 sheep ring full of buyers from Scotland, Wales and Devon, all abiding by strict Covid-19 rules.

Auctioneer Trevor Simpson said: “With the prime lamb trade well up on the year, vendors were not disappointed with their ewe lamb trade, with the average up by £27.60 on 2019 to £127.24 for 1.745 head.”

The second Hexham sale of 1,710 lambs (ex both Northumberland type Blackface and Swaledale dams) also attracted a good ring of buyers, both local and distant, with the average increasing by £13.20 on the strong 2019 average to £104.78.

A sound entry of over 600 Blackface gimmers was presented by regular consignors at the annual sale. Mr Simpson said: “With a great upsurge in demand for “Blackie” bred Mule ewe lambs, seasonal trade for gimmers was, as expected, greatly increased on the year, once again cementing this sale as the premier outlet for such top quality Blackface gimmers in the North of England. The overall average was £152.46, compared to 2019’s £140.86.”


North West Auctions J36 annual Mule gimmer lamb sale on behalf of NEMSA’s Kendal branch attracted the largest entry seen for some time, with over 8,000 forward, which sold to a market average of £94.27, an increase of £18 on the year.

Auctioneer Ian Atkinson said: “This included many vendors’ full consignments of tupping, fell and running lambs, which all met plenty of demand, with buyers travelling from far afield, as well as a good backing of local buyers. This year was great to have plenty of interest, with many new purchasers impressed with the quality of lambs on offer. A special thank you much go to both our vendors and buyers in being so understanding in these difficult times during Covid restrictions.”

The second sale saw Mule gimmer lambs of all sizes eagerly bid for; the majority forward being fell running lambs. The overall market average was £82.91, again a steep increase on the year especially for the size of lamb on offer.


While Harrison & Hetherington’s Kirkby Stephen NEMSA opener had a solid catalogued entry of 10,585 lambs, many buyers left short of requirements.

Manager and Auctioneer, Mark Richardson, commented: “A wonderful overall sale average of £103.75 was £20.47 up on the year and this was for 80% of the vendors showing their full consignments. Eight new buyers were in attendance, with most being first time KS buyers.

“After a couple of years of some sheep producers looking to alternative breeds of sheep, the North of England Mule gimmer lamb bounced back to prove herself as possibly the most resilient long-standing and prolific breeding sheep in the UK and this resulted in an abundance of sheep producers from Aberdeen in the north to Cornwall in the south being present and keen to secure Mule gimmer lambs.”


North West Auctions’ annual NEMSA Mule gimmer lamb sale at Lancaster was again met by plenty of demand from both local and travelled buyers, selling to an overall average of £105.51, £28 up on the year. Auctioneer Ian Atkinson noted: “Compliments must go to our vendors for the strong show of lambs, with many consignments of tupping lambs. It was great to attract new buyers this year and we look to continue to grow this sale with buyers impressed with the quality on offer.

“Lancaster’s annual Hill Fair day was once again well supported and vendors left pleased. Mule gimmer lambs, the majority running lambs, met plenty of demand, with a strong overall market average for NEMSA lambs of £90.53, an increase of £19.48 on the year.


The annual Alston Moor sale of 15,540 lambs conducted by Harrison & Hetherington saw the Lazonby Mart pens packed to the rafters for what was again the largest single sale of North of England Mule gimmer lambs in the country.

Auctioneer James Little said: “This great annual event again attracted a huge amount of interest, with sheep selling to buyers covering the length and breadth of the UK.

“The lambs in the majority are sourced from Alston Moor, the East Fellside and the Lakeland Fells of Cumbria, and into Northumberland. They came forward this year in fantastic bloom, being a credit to all vendors, with a 100% turn out on the catalogue, a 100% clearance and an average of £107.02, up £24.03 up on the year. Turnover for the day was in excess of £1.4m.”


Leyburn’s annual NEMSA gimmer lamb show and sale saw 1,271 head forward, as against 1,311 last year. Auctioneer & Manager, Stephen Walker, reported: “Once again, producers presented a quality show of both tupping and running lambs which the plentiful company of buyers bid readily for. The overall average came out at £109.30, up £27.”


C&D Auction Marts held their annual sale of North of England & Scotch-bred Mule ewe lambs. A great show of lambs came to the sale, with an abundance of local and distant buyers in attendance. A sale average of £101.29 was achieved, being £24 up on the year.


Middleton in Teesdale Mart’s annual fixture conducted by H&H attracted a quality show of 1,550 head, presented to a ringside of both regular and new customers. “Another tremendous average of £92.12 was achieved, up £23 on the year. Many customers left short of requirements. Great credit must go to all consignors for putting forward such a quality show of lambs,” said the auctioneers.


At Penrith & District Farmers’ Mart’s annual sale of 10,000 North of England Mule gimmer lambs the overall average of £107 was up £26 on the year.

Auctioneer Andrew Maughan commented: “A wonderful day was had by all. Lambs were forward in great order from the very first to the last in the ring, all in great bloom and dressed to a very high standard. Buyers were forward from all over the United Kingdom, with several new vendors present taking advantage of this quality offering of sheep.

“Both buyers and vendors commented on the sale being the dearest so far. Many more could have been sold to vendors’ advantage. Running lambs achieved the dearest trade of the day.”


At St Johns Chapel Auction Mart’s annual prize show and sale staged by Barnard Castle & Teesdale Farmers Auction Market Co, a catalogued entry of 2,400 Mule gimmer lambs were presented to a keen ringside of regular and new buyers.

“It resulted in a marvellous trade throughout the day. Many purchasers commented on the quality of the lambs on offer at this sale so every credit goes to the vendors for their hard work and stockmanship,” said Managing Director and Auctioneer Libby Bell The sale averaged £105.11 (£23.96 up on 2019).


Hexham and Northern Marts’ traditional “Tow Law” sale on behalf of NEMSA’s Weardale branch produced a catalogue of 4,905. Auctioneer Trevor Simpson said: “A great show of lambs was presented to a good ring of regular local and distant buyers, and also new faces. This resulted in a buoyant trade from start to finish, with the smaller running lambs in particular in strong demand. The sale average was up £24.56 on 2019 at £106.52.”


David Bowman, of Hopes Auctioneers, said: “Wigton Auction Mart’s standalone NEMSA sale attracted a super show of 1,821 lambs and with demand sharper at previous sales this year vendor expectation was high - and rightly so. The trade did not disappoint, as from the outset buyers were keen to source all classes, producing an uplift on the year of £27 to level at slightly over £102.”

Picture: Lazonby mule pens.

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