TRADE for NEMSA gimmer lambs has seen a marked upward shift after a more cautious opening at Skipton Auction Mart this 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 for both sellers and buyers, of which there were plenty.

The welcome change in fortunes was reflected at the North of England Mule Sheep Association’s 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.

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, who farms locally in Blubberhouses, 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.

“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.”

Locally, the traditional pipe-opener to CCM Skipton’s 2019 breeding sheep season, the annual gimmer shearling fixture, saw North of England Mules create the usual buzz, with buyers keen to replenish their breeding flocks.

The overall selling average of £137.33 showed a healthy increase of £15.85 on the year.

Livestock sales manager Ted Ogden commented: “This was a good response from buyers, showing the call for quality Mule shearlings.

“However, a commercial sort was easily bought. Power and quality were definitely the watch words.”

In September, the first major sale for NEMSA gimmer lambs set the season off well when an increased entry of 6,929 head from breeders right across the district and buyers countrywide sold to an overall average of £90.75 per head.

This was just 0.47p down on 2018.

“Trade was better than anticipated and again quality sorts being easily sold,” noted Mr Ogden.

At September’s second sale, a tidy entry of 6,470 lambs sold away nicely, while still being sensibly priced for all concerned.

An overall average was £77.23, up £5.51 on the year was achieved.

Sales at CCM continued fortnightly and the 3rd sale in early October was £71 average, and the 4th sale £61.

A total of 15,709 North of England Mule gimmer lambs were sold at the first two Bentham sale fixtures in 2019, an increase on the year of 15 per cent.

The first sale averaged £77.27, up 48p on the year, while the second sale, comprising probably 95 per cent running lambs, averaged £66.08, down 34p on the year.

Auctioneer Stephen Dennis commented on a strong trade and plenty of interest for top pens.

He noted this was boosted by keen interest in an outstanding pre-sale show on the eve of the sale.

The next draw down of potential tupping lambs were harder to place, quickly falling into the price range of strong runners, with small running lambs selling at increased rates to the previous year.

As 2019 begins to draw to a close, eyes will be on the weather and farming conditions for 2020 where it is hoped this year’s trend can be continued.