Attending this year’s Kelso ram sales would have been no big deal for someone who has been involved in sheep farming for more than 20 years, but I have to make a shocking confession: this was my first ever tup sale.
I have previously tended to avoid these events. Jake not only has the monopoly on stockmanship, breed knowledge and sheep judgement in our business, but also an unrivalled ability to put up with – and indeed enjoy – hours of standing around waiting for something to happen. Now, however, I am in a position to offer a bluffer’s guide for other tup sale virgins
See also: 25 pieces of advice for 25-year-olds
1. It is a good idea to know how many tups you need before you set out. With Bluefaced Leicesters, Jake always likes to double-check before we set off, in case the number of required replacements has altered overnight.
2. Be prepared for the pervading smell of tarted-up tup, which is mainly dip-related.
It clings to you if you so much as brush past a sheep, even if you don’t jump into the pen to inspect a sheep’s testicles.
3. Jumping into a pen and inspecting a sheep’s testicles is considered a normal thing to do (as long as you are a buyer), but anyone handling the sheep should always look serious and purposeful, as if they know what they are doing.
Embarrassed smiling would not only be poor etiquette, but also a giveaway sign of a novice.
4. No-one wants a tup that “melts” after sale day. Rumours will fly about as to which sheep have been overfed and pushed.
However, stockmen may take offence if you ask whether their tups have any special dietary requirements.
5. It is necessary to take a pen to note down the numbers of tups that meet your stringent purchasing criteria.
It will also be useful for crossing out those numbers as the bid price flies above both your maximum budget spend figure and a further £250 beyond that, which is probably the point at which you actually stop bidding, having got carried away.
6. Bidding techniques vary and are an opportunity to show individual flair. Jake favours a discreet flourish of the rolled-up catalogue – a bit like an uppish table tennis backhand. Others seem to go for the purposeful nod.
7. The auctioneers’ pre-sale spiel for each lot is limited to a shortened family tree and the highlighting of perhaps one key feature, often “power” or “strength”, as in, “look at the power in that”.
To my untrained eye, this comment was particularly made about the more ugly-looking types. Sometimes you detect that a sheep has not got a lot going for it. The phrase “this isn’t the worst sheep I’ve sold today” is not the most persuasive.
8. On-site catering comprises a number of burger van outlets, featuring a vegetarian option – chips. A picnic may, therefore, have been a good idea.
Fortunately you are likely to run into someone who invites you to hospitality from the back of their vehicle.
For some people (me) this can be the highlight of the entire day – particularly if cherry-and-almond cake is available.
9. If stuck for conversation, it is always worth asking non-Beltex people what they think of the breed hardiness of the Beltex. Melting tups are another good starter topic.
10. If you are English, try to remember that Kelso is in Scotland, a country where overenthusiastic use of mouthwash can apparently now put you over the legal alcohol limit for driving. One single convivial lunchtime drink may therefore necessitate a last-minute change in transport arrangements. Beware.