UP to 150,000 of the UK’s best breeding sheep will be going under the hammer at autumn sales starting later this month and running through to November.
Carlisle-based auctioneers Harrison and Hetherington (H&H) expect buyers from across the UK, and even from Europe, at their mart centres across the North of England where the largest sheep sales in the country will feature pedigree and commercial ewes and rams.
The major autumn sales programme begins with the opening sale of breeding sheep for early lamb production on Monday, July 28.
The society show and sale of Zwartbles sheep, the biggest Zwartbles sale in the UK, and Northern Counties Suffolk sheep sale, along with the August Fair sale of commercial breeding sheep, takes place on Friday, August 8, in Carlisle.
Another of the highlights of these seasonal sales takes place on August 14 and 15 with the biggest show and sale of Beltex sheep in the country.
H&H operates marts at Carlisle, Kirkby Stephen, Lazonby and Broughton-in-Furness in Cumbria, Middleton-in-Teesdale in County Durham, and Lockerbie and Newcastleton in the Borders.
They sell more than 18 breeds of sheep, which all have their own strong following. The main pedigree sales are for Beltex, Texel, Suffolk, Cheviots, Bluefaced Leicesters, Lleyns Zwartbles, Berrichon, Charollais, Bleu de Maine and Rouges.
Scott Donaldson, H&H sales director, said: “The early sale of commercial breeding sheep sets the benchmark for values for the rest of the season.
“This year we have had a far better spring and sheep have done well this summer.
“Producers have sold their lambs earlier than last year with less overhead and feed costs.
“With the losses during lambing last year, we are anticipating farmers will be looking to restock at this season’s sales to bring numbers back up to optimum levels on their farms.
“We have had a tremendous growing season, resulting in plenty of fodder being produced on farms to keep livestock through the winter.”
Auctioneer James Little will be closely involved with the Beltex and Bluefaced Leicester sales.
James, 27, who farms with his father near Wigton, breeds pedigree Beltex and last year sold his own homebred ram which won the overall championship at this year’s Highland Show.
He said: “We will be selling an entry of just over 1,200 Beltex at Carlisle.
“The breed has become hugely popular in recent years, much of which can be attributed to prime lamb prices which command a premium in the prime ring.
“This is because the killing-out percentage and quality of carcass make them an ideal lamb for the export market – often to their home land of Belgium.
“On a commercial ewe, the Beltex produces a small easy-to-birth lamb, which reaches a target export weight.”
James will also be involved with the registered Bluefaced Leicester sales at both Carlisle and Lazonby.
He added: “The Bluefaced Leicester is sought after to cross with the Swaledale to produce a Mule lamb.
“The mule has stood the test of time and is popular with lowland farmers across the UK who wants to produce a good commercial prime lamb.
“Mules are excellent mothers, and being out of the Swaledale makes them hardy and relatively easy care.” Lazonby is renowned for its Alston Moor Sale; where around 20,000 lambs will pass through the ring in one day – generally the first Wednesday in October.
The pedigree Texel sales at Borderway and the North Country Cheviot sales at Lockerbie will involve auctioneer Grant Anderson, 27, who farms with his family near Carruthers in Dumfries and has a flock of pedigree Beltex.
He said: “The main North Country Cheviot sale at the start of September will see around 4,500 sheep in the ring including 450 rams.
“The Cheviots are synonymous with this part of the country. They are real Borders sheep and the sale regularly attracts large numbers of buyers from the North of Scotland and Wales.
“Cheviots are coming back into fashion because they produce very good quality lambs, they are a hardy breed and the ewes tend to live longer and produce more lambs than other hill breeds.”
He will also be in closely involved in selling Pedigree Texels in Carlisle. The two main sales are held on behalf of the Solway and Tyne Texel Breeders Club, and they sell in the region of 1300 sheep. Grant added: “Prime lambs off a Texel sire regularly top the market because of the high killing-out percentages and the overall good-quality carcass.
“On the female side, Texels are very popular especially with large sheep producers because they have high milk yields; they are good mothers and are easy to lamb.
At Kirkby Stephen Mart, Mark Richardson will be looking after the autumn Mule and Swaledale sales.
He will also be auctioneering alongside James at the Alston Moor Sale at Lazonby.
Mark, 29, farms just four miles from the mart and produces North of England Mules.
He said: “We will be selling between 10,000 and 12,000 gimmer lambs at the main Mule sale at Kirkby Stephen on Friday, September 12.”
The main sales for Swaledales take place in Kirkby Stephen and Middleton-in-Teesdale in September and October and are the UK’s major events for draft ewes, breeding rams and ewe lambs and bidding is expected to be competitive this year.
Mark added: “As a result of the 2013 lambing there may be a shortage of numbers so we expect the stock to be very much in demand at these sales.”