Every autumn, David and Catherine Mattinson enjoy a holiday tour of the auction marts over northern England, taking in Hawes on the Monday and Tuesday, Wigton on the Wednesday and Carlisle on the Thursday, while the home leg is spent at Cockermouth, near their home at the 180-acre Cragg Farm.
They call it their annual North of England Mule vacation tour.
Over the course of the week, which some years can be extended to take in Kirkby Stephen and Penrith, they buy in 500 North of England Mule gimmer hoggs.
David looks for big strong hoggs which will tup and have potential to sell on the following year.
“It’s not the top penners we are looking for, but the ones which will carry on and grow out some more that we look for,” he said. In 2018, his buying average was £102 per head.
The Mattinsons have had Mules for as long as they can remember and, despite straying slightly and trying some Texel cross hoggs a while back, they find the North of England Mule works best for them.
“They are just so easy to work with and they lamb well, mothering is great, and they have lots of milk,” said David.
As David does so much contracting, their sheep need to be as easy to manage as possible. David tends to do the early morning jobs, before leaving Catherine and the children — Thomas, aged 12, and seven-year-old Luke — to manage the day to day jobs, such as marking, tagging, feeding and getting them out to grass.
They lamb all the hoggs inside to the Texel tup, as they find the lambs get to their feet quicker than with the Suffolk tups they used to use, and also find they are easier to sell as store lambs.
The Mule hoggs at Cragg Farm produce, on average, a 150 per cent lambing rate, off the farm, and, with the store lambs going through Longtown and Carlisle in late August through to November last year averaging £63, that was leaving the Mattinsons around £90 per hogg.
This is seen as a great return, especially when you take into account that the Mattinson lambs hardly see any cake. The twins do get a bit of creep just to keep them ticking over.
David said: “If we use three or four tons of feed on the lambs it’s too much!”
As well as their Mule vacation tour, the family enjoy the showing and sale of the shearlings, which they sell through Cockermouth and Penrith. They have also supported the Royal Highland show since North of England Mule classes were added.
David said: “We aren’t professionals at it by any means and since it’s in the middle of our busy season we don’t always make it up to show them ourselves, leaving it in the capable hands of Neil Marston, who farms not too far away.”
At the sales, the Mattinsons have gained quite a reputation for presenting some great shearlings, which, although they may not be fed up as much as some, go on and do well for customers. David has won the shearling classes several times at Cockermouth and last year his shearlings averaged £146 through the ring, so he reckons the North of England Mule gimmer is the perfect sheep for his system.
The Mattinsons lamb 500 North of England Mule gimmer hoggs every year and have 30 beef suckler cattle, mainly Limousin and British Blue cross-breds. They also run a contracting business and have camping pods on the farm.