Due to my interpretation of the recent trade in breeding sheep, I reckoned that Mule hoggets would probably cost two and a half fat lambs (at current deadweight prices).

This situation didn’t strike me as making much financial sense, so I had retained mostly Texel x Mule ewe lambs that had been earmarked at birth as potentially suitable, and made up my mind to only buy one pen of Mules. How wrong can you be?

Almost 5,000 sheep were presented at the second of this year’s breeding sales in Ballymena, and trade was well back from the monstrous prices recorded a year ago.

But by far the most important part of buying these young animals has nothing to do with recording and measuring physical parameters – it is that every time I walk into the field, I can stand and gaze at them and it makes me feel good inside. And I consider that part of farming to be at least as important as gross margins or any other sort of efficiency measurements.

If I wanted to talk efficiency, I could point out that big stretchy ewes are required to supply me with suitably bodied ewe lambs and so a small number of expensive Mules are needed to form the nucleus of the flock.

Also, part of me thinks that sometimes it’s better to work with the ‘devil ye ken’ than a lot of alternative breeds on offer.


I remain somewhat sceptical about jumping ship and trying some of the alternatives that are out there.

Visiting other farms and viewing their stock and systems is all well and fine, but Mr Cynical has noticed a slight reticence among famers to criticise whatever breed or combination they’ve fallen in love with.

I still place enormous credence on genuinely independent research into various breeds, where you are told the whole story, from lambing percentages, growth rates, longevity, replacement costs, and (currently relevant) cull ewe prices.

When was the last time you heard a farmer confess that they had 200 ewes of a certain breed, but they weren’t much use?


I’ve been listening for years now to the argument that Mules (and their half-bred female progeny) have been superseded by any number of alternatives, yet all I can do is study my benchmarking results and look at what is happening on this farm.

The benchmarking tells me that my sheep compare favourably with other farms, while on a practical level, my life would be easier if I had fewer lambs being born.

Maybe that’s the opinion of someone who has been farming too long, but at current prices for meal and fertiliser, I can’t help but wonder if those triplet lambs, and artificially reared pets aren’t something of a financial liability?

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