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, Skipton and Bentham among them - and in every single instance averages were not only up across the board, but also well up in most cases.

NEMSA’s national chairman, third generation Mule breeder Chris Harrison, who farms at Coatlith Hill, Alston, enthused: “We were bowled over by ewe lamb trade this year 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 again put in by NEMSA breeders, while buyers again turned out in force to support us at this year’s sales, further underpinning the demand for and continuing popularity of the North of England Mule, which again proved 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.”

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, many 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.”

Skipton Auction Mart’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 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). Even the fifth draw in early November produced a Mule average of £81.44.

CCM’s sales manager Ted Ogden said: “Lambs were shown in good order and trade was definitely stronger all season long. The enduring popularity of the North of England Mule shines on, 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.”

At Bentham Auction Mart, auctioneer Stephen Dennis said it was undoubtedly the best show of Mule gimmer lambs seen to date, with buyers keen to purchase quality, top pens selling at premium rates.

The opening fixture produced an overall sale average for 9,397 lambs of £112.89, up £35.62 on the year, with the second sale seeing 4,921 head average £90.04, up £28 on the year.