22 June 2001

Strong demand for Mule lambs supplies

NORTH country auctioneers and individual producers are receiving a steady flow of inquiries for North of England Mule gimmer lambs, but the number available this autumn could be down by 50%.

While some estimate about 200,000 tagged gimmer lambs could be on offer from members of the North of England Mule Sheep Association, others say the figure could be much lower. Around 350,000 lambs are usually sold each autumn at official NEMSA sales.

Auctioneers know they have a mammoth task striking private deals, even with fewer lambs than normal to trade.

The biggest problem is the log-jam that is building in the cycle. The cancellation of summer sheep fairs means vendors of Mule shearlings face the protracted job of selling privately. Shearling prices are expected to range from £50-£80 each this year.

And until sellers have cash they wont buy replacement Mule gimmer lambs. Brian Pile of Northampton Market, which stages Bicester Sheep Fair, says: "Its a difficult and complex situation. Some northern farmers hit by foot-and-mouth have been making inquiries about Mule shearlings. They want to order, but have no idea when they can restock."

Chris Hunt, of Leighton Buzzard, has 900 shearlings to sell. "We have had inquiries from farmers wanting to restock and we are prepared to keep ewes and tup them. We would come north to buy replacements, but only from blood tested flocks."

Cumbria auctioneers Penrith Farmers and Kidds, which usually sells about 120,00 mule lambs each autumn, is preparing catalogues of available stock on north country hill farms. "We are confident we can trade large numbers of gimmer lambs from farm to farm," says auctioneer Stuart Bell.

"Hill farmers wont be able to keep lambs into winter. We hope they wont be forced into disposing of potential breeding stock as prime lambs or via another welfare scheme."

One scheme worth considering, says Mr Bell, is an over-wintering scheme on set-aside land in arable regions. It could provide a stop gap before gimmer lambs move to new farms later in the winter or early next spring. &#42

Jeremy Hunt