Thirty years on, the NSA Wales and Border Ram Sale held at the Royal Welsh Showground has established the quality hallmark that its founder members envisaged.
The sale is the venue of choice for thousands of buyers and vendors and with a turnover which peaked at just over £2.25 million in 1997 it is an important economic driver in Mid Wales.
The task of bringing together thousands of rams and many more farmers is challenging at the best of times, but the last two years have been particularly difficult. The foot and mouth outbreak last year and this year’s Blue Tongue restrictions have brought about fundamental changes.
Secretary Jane Smith says the NSA Wales and Border Committee has had to remain alert and flexible in order for the sale to continue to serve buyers and vendors from all over the UK. The trademark canvas village has been dispensed with and both the early and main sales have been split into two this year.
"We have aimed not to change the essence of the sale, which has enabled buyers to fulfil all their ram requirements on one day", she adds. "However, we have had to move forward and the financial implications of having a sale cancelled when you have erected marquees is too great.
"We hope buyers will come and buy over the two days - our reputation for selling top quality commercial rams will hopefully stand us in good stead and we expect an excellent trade".
Chairman George Hughes says the idea of an all-breed Ram Sale was first mooted at an NSA Wales and Border Region Committee meeting in Builth Wells back in 1976. It arose out of concern over the fact that there was no ram sale in England and Wales offering a multi-breed choice of quality sires.
"We felt that vendors and buyers were unhappy with what was very much a hit and miss affair", he says. "Rams were only sold during three months of each year so it was difficult to market them effectively.
"It was incredible the way the sale grew. The first year there were 664 although the target was 250 rams and by 1980 there 1500 and it soon began to leap by thousands so although it was a good problem we were victims of our own success and planning was a challenge!"
The tenth sale in 1987 had 7,000 rams entered for sale and was the biggest ram sale entry ever catalogued in the UK, with 37 breeds represented and turnover increased from £50,000 to almost one and a half million pounds. The event topped Kelso’s entry and soon became known as Europe’s biggest ram sale, peaking in 1989 when the number of rams entered reached more than 10,000.
Times change and today there are fewer sheep on UK farms but the sale has retained its integrity and its reputation for a high standard. It’s renowned for the high quality of veterinary inspection, uniquely using veterinary trained inspectors, as well as for quality stock. Many of the people who bought and sold at the first sale still attend and many are prepared to travel 250 miles to get to the Builth Wells auction.
Hampshire breeder John Davies who farms near Llandrindod Wells is proud to be one of the six founder members. He says it’s difficult to imagine that thirty years have passed.
"It’s become a spectacle", he says. "I remember that a few of us were talking and decided to set up a committee and organise a ram sale. That first sale confirmed our predictions that there was a need for such a ram sale.
"It was said then that in Radnorshire there were thirty sheep to every person and even years later 65 % of the rams sold at Builth went to flockmasters within Powys. It’s really mushroomed and is an attraction for sheep people throughout Britain, with vendors consistently bringing top class sheep to the sale".
Brian Davies of Garth Brengy, Brecon, has been selling at the NSA Wales and Border Sale every August since 1978 and says it’s important because people can come and buy quality rams from a number of breeds in the one day. He says the original committee was very far sighted in planning a multi-breed sale.
"It’s brought more sheep together and given people a larger choice of animals and they are sold to a very high standard being all inspected", he says. "That has helped to raise the overall standard of sheep sales".
But Brian says it’s a sign of the times that while he is getting less than the average £300 he’d have received for ram lambs back in the late eighties and nineties costs are up about 50%. The answer he feels is to keep ahead of the game in terms of quality and that means a regular trip to Builth.
The NSA Wales and Border Main Sale will be held at the Royal Welsh Showground on Monday 15 September and Saturday 20 September.
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