Shep wandered away up to Lairg to a tup sale so I guess you all realised this is the time of year for buying in the 'boys'.
The tup (ram) sales start a lot earlier in the season, the main one around the borders being Kelso Tup Sale which was held on Friday 10th September. You will not find your hill breeds at Kelso, hence the earlieness of the sale. The breeds represented at Kelso Tup Sale are the more in-bye types, Suffolks, Texel, Blue de Maine and many others for by. The Blue Faced Leicester is also well represented at kelso and some on the locals from around these parts will set foot looking for a tup to cross onto their ewes.
The sale is held earlier in the season due to the fact that it is predominantly supported by the 'in - bye men' who lamb earlier than those of us around here and so need to have their stock tups bought sooner in the year.
From the middle of September onwards there have been tup sales the length and breadth of the country, every breed imaginable has been available for sale. I met my first ever Berrichon tup the other week on a farm in Cumbria, he is to be put out with mule ewes and it will be interesting to see how he crosses; what sort of lambs he leaves.
As the tup sale season draws on we get into the hill breeds with different areas of the country having different 'speciality' breeds. At Hexham (our local mart) you have the Northumberland or Hexham Type Blackfaced Tup sale on the second Monday in October (12th), should you require the scotch type blackface you need to head further North. Stirling (incorporating Perth) and Newton Stewart are past, Lanark is yet to come and there are numerous others with each centre having it's own specific type, for all the Scotch Blackface is a specific breed there are definite variations to type depending on area.
For Swaledale tups you would head West into Cumbria and the dales, as you would for Dalesbred and Rough Fell sheep also. South Country Cheviots would be found at Lockerbie, Park North Country Cheviots also but on an early day and of course the Lairg type North Country Cheviot is at Lairg! Hexham Mart does have a sale later in the season which incorporates all breeds, local breeders bring their Swaledales, Cheviots, Blackfaces alongside Bluefaced Leicesters, Suffolks, Texels and Beltex.
So not only are farmers and shepherds busy selling their breeding sheep at the moment they are also seeking the sires, which may involve many hours travelling to seek the 'type' required. I know of three farmers who travelled to Lairg and back in one day - 12hours travelling with a tup sale thrown in, between them they brought seven tups back to Northumberland!!
Since 2001 anything you bring onto the holding puts you under a six day standstill, actually it's not just anything you buy, should you take stock to auction and not happy with the trade end up bringing them home you find you're unable to move stock off that holding for a further 6 days. This is an absolute nightmare as specific sales are on specific days and a sale waits for no one.
The back end sales are when sheep farmers see their returns, they have invested in their sheep for a year and reap the financial rewards through the 2-3 hectic months which run prior to winter. There are very few businesses which receive little income for three quarters of the year and then in the quarter when they can earn themselves some money find they have to be careful not to get tied up with the six day standstill rule.
Fortunately there are ways around the problem, some farmers have ground beyond the farm which comes under a different holding number and can use this ground for security under the six day rule, also isolation units are permitted if licenced by a vet. The whole idea is to prevent the spread of disease, such as foot and mouth, understandable when sheep can travel the length and breadth of the countryside, however, at times one can't help but think it is bureaucracy gone mad.
Many of the Tarset Farmers are heading into Scotland this year for their stock sires. The Hexham type Blackface has been getting a slating from many over the past couple of years, the breed does have a small gene pool, also it is a larger cousin to the Scotch type, coupled with more wool.
Size takes feeding. Now don't get me wrong, you need a sheep with a good carcase but the longer Hexham type is going out of fashion at the moment, they don't seem to thrive right on some of this poorer ground and allegedly aren't always crossing true; You buy the type of tup you like, the type you have in your minds eye that you would wish your ewe flock to look like, you then find that this tup doesn't leave behind many lambs resembling him - he's not crossing true - a huge disappointment and one not easily rectified.
Then there is the wool issue. Barer skinned sheep can be found at Hexham and a decent purl (curl in the wool) is still seen as important for the breeding of mule ewe lambs but there are still a number of heavier skinned sheep coming through the ring at Hexham and with the wet winters we have been seeing recently it is commonly thought that the sheep are hindered by carrying heavy wet fleeces around and after all the wool doesn't have the value off the sheep's back that it used to have.
The 'scotch' men have put alot of effort into their sheep of later years. They used to be renowned for having black and white faces with straighter, hairier wool. These changed almost overnight, with consensus of opinion being that the Swaledale was put through them, producing a sheep more favourable to the fashions liked in this area. Darker, cleaner haired sheep with a weatherproof but purly skin, a good depth of carcase with out too much length, although having said that they have also put length into their sheep with some of them now resembling Dougal from the 'Magic Roundabout'!!
So, we'll wait and see what the tup sales have to offer, the following week will be a busy one. I myself hope to be able to attend Lanark lamb sale on 16th, curiosity can be a killer!! Hopefully, I'll be able to report and let you all know what breeds of tup have come into the area this year
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