CONFIDENCE is said to be running high ahead of the keynote autumn show and sale season for North of England Mule gimmer lambs, which will go under the hammer at auction marts across the region.

North Yorkshire sheep farmer Kevin Wilson, chairman of the North of England Mule Sheep Association (NEMSA), long-time custodian of the breed, is upbeat about improved prospects for this year.

He said: “A mild, virtually trouble-free winter, followed by a good spring, particularly during lambing time, and early summer, with plenty of grass about, have left the North of England Mule in great shape and fine heart.

“This year’s scanning results were extremely positive and we are anticipating a significantly increased turnout at our annual autumn highlights, with, hopefully, improved trade on the year to match. All the signs look good and we are very positive.”

Annual sales of North of England Mule ewes and shearlings are already under way. Confidence was boosted at the recent Thame Summer Sheep Fair, the traditional pipe-opener to the main UK breeding sheep sale season, when 6,500 Mule shearlings and two-shears sold to an overall average £5 up on the year.

The trend has continued at early Northern sales, with improved averages seen for both ewes and shearlings.

For example, the big opening gimmer shearling fixture at Skipton on August 20 produced an overall Mule selling average which was up £15.85 on the year.

Mr Wilson said: “This augurs well for future sales, in particular our keynote Mule gimmer lamb highlights which are again being staged throughout September and October at auction marts across our North of England heartlands.

“Last year, despite an extremely harsh winter and wet spring, the NEMSA membership, around 1,000 of them at the last count, covering an area stretching from the English/Scottish border down to Derbyshire, did well under very difficult circumstances to consign over 200,000 ewe lambs.

“We are expecting at the very least that number this year. All our members remain keenly aware that as Mule breeders we must not only seek to maintain the high-held standards of the breed, but also look to improve them at every opportunity to the benefit of all our buyers and users – shepherds the length and breadth of the UK.

“We look forward to welcoming both regular and potential new purchasers again this year.”