Sheep farewell

It was shampoo and sets all round for the female lambs born this Spring as they were spruced up for the annual North of England Mule Sheep Association sale at Kendal auction. Much was made of this being the last Mule sale at the town site – next year’s lambs will enter the ring at a brand spanking new building near Junction 36. Mules result from crossing a Swaledale ewe with a Blue Faced Leicester tup. First year female lambs are known in this part of the world as gimmers. There’s a language of sheep that must be learned and being dairy farmers really, we are linguistic novices.Prices for breeding sheep went up again this year, after several years of poor returns. Our mule gimmers went to local buyers and will be bred this autumn to have a lamb next Spring. They will then be known as shearlings…Sale preparation involves clipping wool from the sheep’s face and belly to give a sharp (rather than shaggy) look. The sheep are dipped in a solution with purl and bloom. The first ‘perms’ the wool and then bloom dyes it a biscuit colour. Both substances have to be measured with care or the sheep is in danger of ending up with a tightly wound dreadlock-like fleece, coloured, albeit temporarily, a nasty shade of yellow.There’s a special section in the agricultural supplies store: Sheep Showing & Colouring [subsection] Shampoo and Conditioner.Farmers go to some lengths to present their stock for sale. For many it’s the culmination of a full year’s work breeding, lambing and rearing sheep. Two days before the sale the sheep are brought in to have their faces and legs washed with soap.The sheep that appeared in this week’s World Sheepdog Trials at Lowther near Penrith were Mule sheep. The Lowther estate owns 5000. Before the sale our lamb total was a mere 1% of that figure: we kept 11.

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