Fresh from the trip to Lairg, Shep hit Northumberland soil just in time to get to the draft ewe sale at Hexham. The hill breeding sale. A highlight of the year at Bellingham Auction Mart when all the 'retired' ewes are brought down off the hills to be sold and spend the last of their breeding days on kinder, grassier ground in-bye.
Although there is no longer a Bellingham Mart the sale is held at Hexham and Shep never misses it.
A female breeding sale of hill sheep, predominantly Blackfaces with a good representation of Swaledales and a handful of Cheviots. The ewes are drafted off the hills as previously explained and sold at 5 or 6 year old. They must have a full mouth to be sold as fully warranted, that means all eight front teeth must still be in place and have a hold, they must also be sound of the bag (udder). Occasionally it will be put out that 'there are a couple with a side tooth out'; it pays to be honest and a side tooth is no great loss.
Numbers are declining, there were many farm names missing off the catalogue from a few years back, whether they are selling elsewhere or a change of farm policy I don't know but they were missing. Which possibly helped the trade which was strong, top price paid being £95 and many doubling the price they received last year.
The trade will actually have been helped by the strength in the fat ring. Fat sheep are realising good money and when farmers have it they will spend it. The mule ewe lamb trade has also been bouyant and as many of these sheep will be put to the Blue faced leicester tup to breed the mule lamb then again that will have helped the trade. About time too, the sheep industry has seen a few too many lean years of late with many tenant farmers hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Lets just hope the prices haven't risen too much and too quickly.
Gimmers were a roaring trade, these are usually the farmers second draw lambs from last year. After keeping his replacement ewe lambs he'll keep the best of the remainder of the ewe lambs and let them run on with the intention of selling them the following back end as gimmers. One lot of gimmers which Shep had dressed were sold last year for just forty odd pounds, the price you'd expect for a lamb, however the equivalent this year realised £106 - a vast improvement.
Of the 35 pens of gimmers forward 25 made £100+, the top price being £160 from four different farms. Gimmers of course have their full breeding lives ahead of them and are generally a good investment. I don't know that I have ever known the trade to be quite so high, other than in 2002 when those who had been killed out in 2001 were desperate to replace their sheep with good types.
Had we still been at Bellingham Mart the 'Nappers' would have been full to overflowing on the night, with glasses raised, crack flowing and a good sing song for bye. However those days are past and after Hexham ewe sale everyone trundled off in their own directions, home in time for tea and stock looked before bed. Not only is their a decline in sheep being sold but also a noticeable decline in the sociable aspect of these sheep gatherings.
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