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Stackyard News Aug 03
       
news index     Mule's come-back

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 Bell.

“ 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.

Mule Ewe lambs
Some of Asby Grange's 2003 Ewe Lambs

Dedication to the North of England Mule
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 family.

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 (NEMSA) branch.

“ 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.

Jennifer MacKenzie

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