The times may have been unprecedented in the history of British agriculture with the continuing trials and tribulations of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the welcome truth of it was that trade, too, turned out to be unprecedented.

Throughout the North of England the Mule Sheep Association’s (NEMSA) high profile 2020 gimmer lamb sales season was a soaring success.

Some 149,000 NEMSA-tagged ewe lambs, 2,000 up on the previous year, were successfully sold this autumn at official annual sales staged by northern auction marts – and in every single instance averages were not only up across the board, but also well up in most cases.

Hexham and Northern Marts’ opening prize show and sale for Mule ewe lambs saw the Number four sheep ring full of buyers from Scotland, Wales and Devon, all abiding by strict Covid-19 rules.

Auctioneer Trevor Simpson said: “With the prime lamb trade well up on the year, vendors were not disappointed with their ewe lamb trade, with the average up by £27.60 on 2019 to £127.24 for 1.745 head.”

The second Hexham sale of 1,710 lambs (ex both Northumberland type Blackface and Swaledale dams) also attracted a good ring of buyers, both local and distant, with the average increasing by £13.20 on the strong 2019 average to £104.78.

A sound entry of over 600 Blackface gimmers was presented by regular consignors at the annual sale.

Mr Simpson added: “With a great upsurge in demand for “Blackie” bred Mule ewe lambs, seasonal trade for gimmers was, as expected, greatly increased on the year, once again cementing this sale as the premier outlet for such top quality Blackface gimmers in the North of England.

“The overall average was £152.46, compared to 2019’s £140.86.”

NEMSA said early indications in the Mule shearling ewe trade were an “excellent barometer as a sign of things to come”.

Third generation Mule breeder, and NEMSA’s national chairman, Chris Harrison, who farms at Coatlith Hill, Alston, explained: “To say we were pleasantly surprised with ewe lamb trade this year is an understatement.

“It’s fair to say we were bowled over and our warmest thanks and continuing appreciation go to all who helped make this outcome possible – breeders, buyers and auction marts one and all.

“It is true testament in uncertain times to all the hard graft and unstinting efforts again put in by NEMSA breeders.

“They richly deserved the recognition and earned their just rewards.”