Solid demand for North of England Mules maintained in difficult year

Generally positive and respectable trade in what proved a difficult year early on was seen at the keynote 2022 North of England Mule Sheep Association (NEMSA) Mule gimmer lamb, ewe and shearling sales this autumn.

As usual, breeders across their traditional heartlands again turned out their charges in excellent condition, with both long-standing and new buyers once more flocking up, down and across country to replenish their annual North of England Mule stocks.

North of England Mule

Demand for top end Mules again proved strong, with commercial producers still very keen to use the all-purpose breed as the base for commercial flocks due to their adaptability for producing fat lambs or female replacements.

NEMSA’s chairman, Cumbrian sheep farmer Chris Harrison, summed up: “While trade was in most instances not quite as strong as 2021 this was, however, anticipated in a year in which unprecedented dry weather conditions and availability of grazing early on was bound to have an effect on demand for lambs, particularly from returning customers across southern and eastern areas.

Moreover, running lambs which are generally sold into the south where drought conditions prevailed proved slightly harder to place, though here again in line with expectations.

“I would just like to say well done and a big thank you to everyone concerned - breeders, buyers, exhibitors, auction marts, sponsors and anyone else who was involved. There is little doubt that the NEMSA Mule continues to be the number one choice of commercial lamb producers.”

Here’s the annual round-up from northern marts staging NEMSA ewe lamb sales, plus appropriate comment from auctioneers where provided:


BARNARD CASTLE: Day 1 of the annual two-day fixture was again open to both NEMSA members and non-members, with 1,891 lambs averaging £109.16 (2021 £116.74). The members-only sale on Day 2 saw 3,400 lambs average £124.01, up on the previous year’s £121.65.

PATELEY BRIDGE: The annual prize show and sale of 1,300 Mule, Dales Mule and Masham gimmer lambs averaged £124.11, a nice lift on the previous year’s £120.45 for 1,509 lambs.

ST JOHNS CHAPEL: An entry of 2,300 head from Weardale and surrounding areas was presented to both regular and new purchasers, with stronger lambs maintaining recent strong trade, but smaller lambs more difficult to place .The sale averaged £110.41 (2021 £123.29).


With lambs in general smaller than last year the opening sale of 10,818 head saw members lambs average £119.27 (2021 £131.67), non members lambs £98.69, the overall average coming in at £116.45 (2021 £129.13). After a cautious start, the second sale of 5,053 head built into a nice trade, with both new and existing customers in attendance and mostly running lambs in the entry, with an overall average of £94.10 (2021 £107.99) for both member and non-member lambs.

Auctioneer Stephen Dennis said: “Bearing in mind the drought conditions being suffered by much of the country it was remarkable that so many old customers made the journey north to buy breeding replacements. The popularity of the NofE Mule is still apparent for all to see, with southern shepherds making sure not to miss out.”

He also complimented vendors on presenting NofE Mules of superb quality, adding: “In a year when breeding sales were generally down, the quality of the Mule resulted in a lift on the year.”

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While an overall average of £123.33 for 4,898 head at the season opener in early September was down £7.02 on 2021, livestock sales manager Ted Ogden noted: “Buyers across the country are always looking to this sale to gauge trade, but the ringside quickly filled up and despite the well documented dry weather many regular travelled customers from across the English counties were present and on reflection the lambs in the main looked a thoroughly decent trade, with both strong farming lambs and runners looking well sold.”

An overall selling average of £115.87 for 5,346 head at the second sale was only £2.25 down on the year and here again trade was better than most expectations after the first round-up of sales around the north. It proved especially so for the runners, with plenty of lambs selling well to a large gathering of regular buyers and plenty of medium and smaller types not too dissimilar to last year’s selling prices. At the third sale, 2,628 lambs averaged £95.23 (-£10.13) whilst the fourth sale also achieved a very sharp average.


LONGTOWN: Buyers were represented from all over the UK at the main sale of 9,066 head, with trade as expected throughout, levelling at £118.57, £6.65 down on 2021. Many more top draw lambs could have been sold to vendor advantage.


CARLISLE: The ‘Latter Fair Show & Sale’ of 5,000 Mule gimmer lambs at Borderway saw NEMSA lambs level at £127.67 (2021 £136.87).

KIRKBY STEPHEN: While the entry of 9,252 lambs was smaller than usual an overall average of £119.29 (down £6.01) was described as a ‘wonderful outcome’ when taking into account the extreme drought-like conditions and lack of grass in many areas of the country.

LAZONBY: The annual ‘Alston Moor Harvest of the Hills’ sale saw 15,205 forward, with buyers from all areas of the UK seeking all classes of lambs, among them a larger percentage of running lambs. Despite high feed costs and the current economic climate, vendors who carried on as usual would be rewarded with their returns. The sale average levelled at £112.60 (-£10), with NEMSA lambs averaging £114.72 and non-member lambs £108.36.

The second sale of 6,290 head again attracted purchasers UK-wide, with running lambs sold to some of the dearest trade this back end and tupping lambs a straight trade throughout. NEMSA member lambs averaged £95.08, non-member lambs £90.41, compared to an overall 2021 sale average of £103.57 for 6,338 head. The third and final sale of 700 gimmer lambs averaged £82.50, with running lambs a serious trade.

MIDDLETON-IN-TEESDALE: The seasonal highlight saw 1,525 gimmers from Weardale and Teesdale average £100.22 (-£5), with little running lambs described as the dearest sold to date.

NEMSA sale


The two-day opener saw 19,439 head average £122.35 (2021 £130.04), while 7,800 Mules among the second turnout averaged £99.80 (2021 £111.32). The third sale of 2,071 head averaged £81.01, on a par with the previous year’s £82.52, while the final sale late October produced an average of £60.52.

Chairman Andrew Pratt said: “Considering the difficulties encountered marketing gimmer shearlings in the south of the country due to the severe drought conditions, demand for Mule gimmer lambs was good, with all being able to find new homes, albeit slightly down in price on the year.”


HEXHAM: The seasonal opener, staged in new format this year with the sale held a day earlier on the Thursday afternoon, predominantly consisted of stronger, tupping-type lambs, with both regular and new purchasers present. While trade was on the whole very similar it actually took at nice lift at £6 per head up on the previous year’s £149.06 for 1,455 lambs.

The 2nd sale of 1,281 head followed the theme for many northern centres and met an easier trade compared to last year’s second sale, which experienced extreme rates. Lambs were also not as far forward this year and had suffered from the dry summer. The sale averaged £129.84 for a good mixture of both tupping and running type lambs.

TOW LAW: The traditional “Tow Law’ sale for Weardale Branch saw an increased entry of 5,870 head, though lambs were lacking strength compared to last year as a result of the dry summer locally. Trade throughout was very similar to other centres, with larger tupping lambs easily cashed and very much in line with last year’s rates. Smaller, younger running lambs were harder to trade and undoubtedly suffered from the lack of grass in the south, with fewer running type purchasers in attendance. As a consequence, the sale average was down by £15 on last year’s extremely dear sale (£129.51), but still in front of the 2020 sale.

Auctioneer Drew Patrick commented: “It has been noticeable that commercial producers are willing to pay top rates for the best end of breeding sheep. The demand for the top end of Mules, whether ewe lambs or gimmers, is very strong. Commercial producers are still very keen to use Mules as the base for their commercial flock due to their adaptability for producing fat lambs or female replacements.”

NEMSA sale


WIGTON: The annual show and sale was held in conjunction with the first ‘Local Lamb Day.’ Vendor expectations were high and rightly so. From the outset buyers were keen to source all classes, producing a sale average of £111.02 (2021 £129.08) Auctioneer David Fearon said: “Firm enquiry from local and national buyers produced a useful trade for a show containing a strong proportion of running lambs, with strong tupping lambs commanding premiums.”


A small, but nice show of 1,060 Mule & Continental gimmer lambs got away well to a good ringside of mostly local buyers, with the overall Mule average of £118.50 down £7.20 on the year. The second sale of 740 head of both tupping and running lambs averaged £97, down £6.

NEMSA sale


COCKERMOUTH: Quality Lakeland Mules attracted a huge ringside of buyers from the length and breadth of the country, trade of the season justly rewarding vendors for their efforts. The mart average was £117.53, against £125.80 in 2021.


KENDAL: The annual sale at J36 produced an overall average of £117.86, £7 down on the year for an entry of 7,000. Both good quality top pen and strong tupping lambs were in big demand with buyers eager to purchase Auctioneer Ian Atkinson said: “Trade was better than anticipated with all things considered, especially with the ongoing drought in the south and many worrying about a shortage of fodder this winter and ever-increasing costs. It was great to see so many loyal local and southern buyers ringside with a few faces missing due to the conditions, and fresh faces also in the market, all complimentary on the quality on offer out of the Kendal NEMSA sale.”

The second sale had forward a large proportion of running lambs meeting resistance from the south as the rain had come a little too late and forage crops also coming through very slowly.

LANCASTER: The 1,500 Mules consisted of a large quantity of NEMSA lambs, with plenty of strong tupping lambs on offer and a good ringside of buyers from local and far away. The overall market average was £120.33, £5 down on the year. Ian Atkinson said: “A great quality of lambs saw many familiar faces ringside, as well as fresh travelled buyers, all commenting on the quality on offer. It was great to see all specification of lambs well bid on, with all vendors leaving well pleased in a difficult year.”

The Lancaster “Hill Fair” second sale was met with a strong ringside of buyers selling to a strong overall average of £105.61, the majority forward good quality running lambs, of which more could have easily been sold.


The annual sale of 10,000 North of England Mule and Cheviot Mule gimmers smashed all expectations with an average of £121.02 (2021 £126.50), though many consignments averaged the same as last year, even considering more running lambs were on offer.

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