Attention turning to Mule gimmer lambs
By Jeremy Hunt
IT was never going to be a flyer, but this seasons trade for North of England Mule gimmer lambs, which has shown a rise of about £5 on the year, is likely to have a stabilising effect on the future production of breeding sheep.
Thats the opinion of most north country auctioneers as they move into the final stages of the autumn Mule gimmer lamb season.
The leading northern sale centres have sold well over 150,000 lambs in recent weeks, but although entries have been as much as 20% down at some fixtures, the shortfall may only have played a small part in this years marginally higher prices.
Sheep incomes, bolstered by a healthier prime lamb market and the knock-on effect on store lamb prices, have helped lift Mule gimmer lamb values out of last years doldrums.
Southern buyers have been prepared to pay about £40 apiece for tupping lambs, with trade at the earlier sales settling at £33-£35.
But as running lambs start to fill the pens at sales, auctioneers are unsure how prices will fare.
Previous years have seen these smaller lambs look expensive compared with stronger tupping lambs bought in September, but with ample grass on offer – particularly on dairy farms where wet conditions are driving cows inside – there could be plenty of takers.
"We might see more speculative buying in the coming weeks," says Kevin Kendal of Kendal Auction Mart, which sells about 10,000 Mule gimmer lambs each autumn. "Any running lambs bought with the intention of selling them as shearlings could end up giving a faster return on their investment if the prime trade stays strong and they end up on the hook."
The trade at Kendal this season saw lambs up by £6.50 at the early sale. Running lambs are now averaging about £24 apiece.
But these prices are already making Mule breeders think long and hard about the future breeding policy of their flocks. Hopefully it will create the market stability they need as fewer Swaledale ewes are run with Blue-faced Leicester rams and supply and demand become more balanced.
Blue-faced Leicester trade has not been markedly affected this season, although buyers are becoming very selective. Last weeks major sale at Hawes saw the 602 ram lambs drop their average by £18 to level at £476.
But more Swaledale ewes are definitely being earmarked for prime lamb production.
Maurice Hall of Hawes Auction Mart says: "We have just held the first sale of terminal sires at Hawes and there was an excellent demand for tups. The fixture could now become an annual event.
"More Texel, Suffolk and Charollais rams are used on hill ewes and thats bound to keep the lid on future supplies of Mule gimmers." The mart sells about 60,000 Mule gimmer lambs each season.
Mr Hall reckons there are ways that numbers of these lambs could be streamlined with the aim of producing more tupping lambs for the early sales.
"One way to achieve it would be to turn out Blue-faced Leicester rams at the start of the tupping season and then follow on with a terminal sire breed. That way, the early-born lambs would theoretically be the bigger lambs for the September breeding sales, leaving the later born crop to sell as prime lambs."
Cumbria farmer Jim Capstick of Broughton-in-Furness, chairman of the North of England Mule Sheep Association, says most Mule breeders reckon prices have been "as good as we expected".
"A lot of top-quality Mule lambs have been bought for very reasonable money, but if they go away and do a good job, it can only boost the reputation of the Mule.
"I think we are moving into a more stable situation of supply and demand but we are in an ever-changing market. A few years ago, we would never have imagined that some Mule wether lambs would be worth as much as the gimmers." *
Mule gimmer lamb prices are up compared with last year, mainly because of better sheep incomes.