WHILE the nation continues to present a brave face during the Covid-19 lockdown, hundreds of sheep farmers and their families UK-wide have been busy lambing in splendid self-isolation in what many have long termed their annual lockdown period.

There is little doubt that the recent prolonged dry and sunny weather has proved of great benefit to the 2020 lambing season, with plenty of fit and healthy lambs on the ground.

Another boost is the welcome news that auction marts across the country have now been allowed to resume breeding sheep sales of ewes with lambs at foot, albeit still under strictly controlled conditions governing both vendors and buyers alike.

In common with other breed societies, early feedback about the latest lambing time from members of the North of England Mule Sheep Association (NEMSA) is upbeat.

National chairman Chris Harrison, who farms in Cumbria at Coatlith Hill, Alston, described lambing as “probably the best in my living memory”. Living at 1,200ft above sea level, the family does not start lambing Swaledales until April, first to the Blue-faced Leicester to produce North of England Mules, then ewes to the Swaledale tups a week later. At the end of April, there were about 50 of the 650-strong Swaledale ewe flock still to lamb.

Third generation Mule breeder Mr Harrison, now joined by the fourth generation in his son Richard, said: “The ewes were in excellent condition and scanned at 150 per cent, so I fully expect there will be an abundance of lambs this autumn for our high-profile annual gimmer lamb sale season. Let’s hope there will be plenty of buyers with plenty of grass too – always assuming and, of course, hoping there will be some sort of normality by then.”

Longstanding NEMSA members Ron and Fran Wilson, of Armathwaite in the Eden Valley, Cumbria, run a small flock North of England Mules.

Mr Wilson said: “I like the shape of the Beltex – they are just the right size for tupping Mule hoggs and they have lambed nicely at around 175 per cent. The plan is to retain some of the gimmers in the flock.”

Previously, the couple owned and worked Low Tipalt Farm, a traditional Northumberland hill farm running to just over 600 acres at Greenhead, a small village in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall, breeding North of England Mules from their own Blue-faced Leicester and Swaledale flocks. At its peak, the Swaledale flock numbered 600 ewes.

While farming there, for five consecutive years, the Wilsons won the breed championship at Lazonby Auction Mart when showing and selling their Mule ewe lambs at the annual autumn highlights.

Three years later after moving to their Cumbrian farm, they won the first of what was to become a total of nine Great Yorkshire Show supreme championships with their Mules, plus a hat-trick of supreme successes at the Royal Highland.