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Tried and tested - the Mackintosh recipe for the original easy-care sheep

NEMSA’s long-standing friend Wayne Hutchinson has, on his many travels, paid a visit to North of England Mule devotees Robert and Angus Mackintosh at Manor Farm in Milborne Wick. Here, he reports in his inimitable style in both words and pictures.

Deep in the heart of the Dorset countryside, there is a small enclave which will always be that little bit “Northern,” as Robert Mackintosh and his son, Angus, run Manor Farm in the picturesque hamlet of Milborne Wick, solely stocked with North of England Mules and their offspring.

Robert has been heading North to buy his sheep since 1975 after first seeing some Mules and recognising the commercial attributes of this versatile sheep - and quite simply he still hasn’t seen anything that can beat it for doing its job.

Robert’s father, Ian, bought Manor Farm in 1955 when it was a crumbling family estate and over the ensuing years Robert and then, more lately, son Angus, have farmed it themselves and now run 500 Mules ewes and 100 hoggs, as well as retaining 70-80 Suffolks out of the Mule ewes, selecting the best to sell as gimmer lambs and gimmer shearlings through Exeter and Hereford Auction Marts as they feel it is important to support the live auction marts. Last year, their Suffolk gimmer lambs at Hereford won first prize out of the 8000 head sold there, topping at £210.

Robert’s dedication and belief in the North of England Mule after initially buying them back in the mid-70s saw him buy for others down in the area and at one point he was fetching back 5-6000 Mule gimmers from the sales centres in the North, sourcing from Applebly, Carlisle, Lazonby and Hawes, building up many friendships which endure to this day.

This comradeship is another factor governing dedication to the Mule, as the sense of community at the marts is good, with great company around and within the ring, where people all talk the same language... “sheep.”

While numbers purchased now are somewhat less as Robert has downscaled his buying, coupled with others going up and bringing their own sheep back, they still travel north, mainly now just to the “Harvest of the Hills” Alston Moor sale at Lazonby, where he feels the lambs from that sale are very genuine sheep off traditional hill farms. He finds they kick on well when they arrive in the gentle rolling Dorset countryside, the polar opposite of some of the upland farms from which they originate.

When buying their gimmer lambs, they look for a long, clean sheep with a sharp head and good skin, and as much power as they can. They purchase to a budget, so aren’t looking to buy all the first pens, but lambs that they feel will blossom out into good ewes.

These types of sheep carry and rear two lambs with ease, milk and mother well, with lambs either to the Texel or Suffolk growing quickly, swelling out to make good fat lambs without much intervention. They are, they feel, the original easy-care sheep. Other breeds make the claims, but the North of England Mule does it all for them, and has done year after year.

Fat lambs are sold through Exeter or Sedgemoor markets – here again supporting the live markets as they feel this is the best way to sell stock. The first lambs are selected as soon as they are able, selling the early lambs once they reach 39kgs. They aim for the heavy lamb market and with the fast-growing Suffolk they soon hit 50kg and above.

With all the gimmer hoggs lambing and ewes bringing up two lambs apiece, it’s quick to see just how well the North of England Mule does for the Mackintosh family. Combined with the friendships and contacts built over the last 40-plus years there seems to be no reason to break up a tried and tested method. If there’s one thing certain in these uncertain times, it’s that, for Robert and Angus Mackintosh, the North of England Mule continues to be the best in the business.

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