The North of England Mule has made a remarkable recovery since thousands
of head of its parent breeding stock were lost during foot and mouth.
This autumn 200,000 Mule ewe lambs will be available at sales centres
throughout the north of England, including 13 official sales for the
North of England Mule Sheep Association (NEMSA).
NEMSA was formed in 1980 to promote the North of England Mule, a prolific
crossbred ewe which first came into existence in the 1930s. Since then
the popularity of the North of England Mule has risen to make up 40 per
cent of the mule commercial flocks across England, Wales and Scotland.
While the numbers of Mule ewe lambs available are not yet up to their
pre-foot and mouth numbers, the sheep has made a remarkable recovery
considering the large numbers of its parent stock – a Swaledale
or Northumberland type Blackface ewe put to the Bluefaced Leicester ram – were
lost during the culls in 2001.
NEMSA membership continues a steady growth with numbers well over 2,000
and more than half of those active members breeding Mule ewe lambs.
“ The North of England Mule is as popular as ever with commercial flockmasters
from the north of Scotland to the southern counties of England and into Wales
who will be attending sales this autumn,” said NEMSA secretary Dorothy
“ The ewes’ attributes are that they are exceptionally good mothers
with plenty of milk, an easy care sheep and they are long lived – it is
not unusual to see a six year old ewe still producing twins,” she added.
|Some of Asby
Grange's 2003 Ewe Lambs
Thirty years’ dedication to breeding the North of England Mule
was not entirely lost in the foot and mouth cull of 2001 for the Hayton
Such was their confidence in the attributes and qualities of the Mule
that they were determined to re-established their Swaledale and Bluefaced
Leicester flocks at Asby Grange, Great Asby, near Appleby and re-start
breeding the sought-after crossbred ewe lambs.
Now they have taken the enterprise a step further by breeding and finishing
lambs from the Mule which have sold well through the ring.
The Haytons bought the 380-acre all-grass farm in 1989, moving from
a smaller unit at Selside, near Kendal where they had already established
a name for breeding quality North of England Mule ewe lambs. Robert Hayton
and his wife Diane farm in partnership with Robert’s parents Roly
and Dorothy. Robert and Diane’s daughters Alison, 14 and Rachel,
11 are also keen young farmers.
During 2001, the Haytons survived getting foot and mouth at Asby Grange,
however all but 10 Bluefaced Leicester ewes and one tup which had kept
been in isolation were taken in various culls throughout the summer.
The farm’s 700 Swaledale ewes were all lost.
“ The Mule ewe lambs have done well for us and we know from 30 years’ of
experience that they are a good sheep – the same people come back each
year to buy from us,” said Robert Hayton, who followed in his father’s
footsteps as chairman of the Kirkby Stephen North of England Mule Sheep Association
“ And this year, having lambed some of the Mules ourselves, we
have our own proof that they are easy to lamb and they are good mothers
and they produce an excellent prime lamb,” he added.
Asby Grange runs from 900ft above sea level to 1,200ft and the Haytons
have rights on Asby Common. A sheep with the ability to be hefted on
the common was necessary and the Haytons went back to the tried and tested
Swaledale which they believe suits the area well.
Sheep were bought in Swaledale along with some Mule shearlings to make
up numbers arriving at Asby Grange at the end of February last year before
lambing. The farm now carries 500 Swaledales, 400 of which are crossed
with the Bluefaced Leicester to produce Mule lambs, and 200 Mule ewes
as well as the Bluefaced Leicester flock. The Haytons are back in the
market for the first time since 2000 this autumn with 300 Mule gimmer
lambs to sell, the entire crop this year.
They have shown their Mule lambs with great success in the past having
won the Kirkby Stephen NEMSA show three times – including two years
running in 1999 and 2000.
Regular buyers are Martin and Val Brown, of Bedale, North Yorkshire.
They bought the Kirkby Stephen 1999 champion pen and went on to win at
the following year’s Great Yorkshire Show with a pair of shearlings.
Another regular buyer from the Haytons is Peter Morris who runs a mixed
family farm at Brill, in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. He buys in up to
1,300 cross-bred ewe lambs each year, 350 of which are North of England
Mules, selling them as shearlings the following year mainly privately
and to a regular number of customers.
“ Everyone we sell the shearlings to is well pleased with them.
We have never had a problem with them so we wouldn’t consider changing,” said
Mr Morris, whose father began the tradition of buying sheep in the north
of England in the 1930s.
“ It doesn’t matter what it is to do with a Mule it’s
always easier than with other crossbred sheep. Their mothering ability
is second to none, they are quiet to handle whether it be at dipping
or lambing – the job is easy with a Mule,” he said. The Mule
ewe lambs are put to the Charollais or Suffolk for prime lamb production
at Chiltern Park Farm which also has dairy, beef and a small arable enterprise.
At Asby Grange bought-in Mule ewes will be retained. This year they
lambed to the Suffolk and Beltex with a percentage of 202 scanned in
lamb with very few mortalities and a high percentage of lambs reared.
By early August most of the crossbred lambs were finished off grass,
weighing between 43kg and 49kg and averaging £54 a head.
Lambing the Mules began on March 1 and lasted a month. Prior to lambing
the ewes are fed big bale high dry matter haylage and both the Mules
and the Swaledales receive concentrates from the end of January, the
quantity depending on whether they are carrying twins or singles. The
first crossbred prime lambs were sold on June 1 through Kirkby Stephen
mart with lambs in demand from local butchers. The Swaledale flock begins
lambing on March 25 with those carrying twins lambing inside and those
with singles outside.
The Bluefaced Leicesters also lamb from the beginning of March. Rams
are sold usually as lambs at Kirkby Stephen and Hawes.
Asby Grange also carries a 100-cow suckler herd of Belgian Blue and
Blonde d ’Aquitaine crosses which are put back to the Belgian Blue
bull with progeny sold as suckled calves. Most of the cows were re-stocked
from one herd.