By Jeremy Hunt

THE number of breeding sheep on offer this autumn could be slashed by at least 60%, claims a leading Cumbria sheep auctioneer.

“As well as a huge drop in the number of Mule gimmer lambs there will be a serious shortage of draft Swaledale ewes.

“Breeding stock prices could rise by at least 50% this year,” says Stuart Bell, of Penrith, Farmers and Kidds.

“We have more orders for Swaledales than Mules. Hill farmers are desperate to know where their replacement sheep are coming from.

“As well as the loss of entire horned flocks vast numbers of Swaledale replacement hoggs were slaughtered as contiguous culls.

“These farmers will have insufficient flock replacements and wont be selling any draft sheep this year which will further reduce the number of sheep on the market.”

Penrith Farmers and Kidds sells the largest number of Mule sheep in the UK – over 120,000/year.

While the company knows how many sheep have been slaughtered in Cumbria on infected farms and through contiguous culls, it is the estimated numbers killed as 3km cases that makes it impossible to accurately calculate the “colossal loss” of breeding stock.

Hill farmers who lost away-wintered Swaledale hoggs as contiguous culls could retain this seasons crop of Mule gimmers if their land can support them through the winter.

“They could hold on to them to keep their sheep numbers up in the short term and at least give them something to farm.

“Their priority will be to breed remaining Swaledale ewes pure until numbers have been replenished,” says Mr Bell.

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