As I walk through the double doors and into the auction, the smell of sheep and sawdust makes me feel suddenly emotional. During Covid I missed going to sales, missed chatting to other farmers and just being in a busy place with other people.
Today is one of the biggest sales of the year, the Swaledale and Rough Fell draft ewe sale at Kendal auction. Traditionally sheep were “drafted” off the fells after about four lambings, and sold to other farmers with better land for the remainder of their lives. While there are plenty of draft ewes here, there are also sheep of all ages from all over the Lake District.
I don’t really need to buy any sheep, but I have agreed with my son, whom I farm in partnership with, that should I see some Swaledale gimmer lambs I like, we can pay up to £70 each for them. We have calculated that at £70 they are affordable. Some people like to go to shopping centres for their retail therapy; I go to sheep auctions.
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There are plenty of Swaledale gimmer lambs in the sale, and I talk to the owners who are leaning outside the pens, answering questions about their sheep. Some lambs particularly catch my eye, from a Lake District farmer I know. I have visited his farm and was impressed by the way he farms alongside nature, with very little additional feed given to his sheep.
“They’re honest fell sheep, these,” he says, trying to convince me to buy. He tells me the history of some of them, that one is the sister of a sheep that won at Muker, a long-running and prestigious agricultural show. I’m tempted. Conversation turns to how my flock is doing. “All you can do is listen and learn from the older farmers,” he says. There can’t be many professions where you are considered a youngster at 50.
When the lambs come into the ring I’m ready, with £70 fixed in my mind. The lambs do sell for £70, but not to me. All the way home in the car I regret not bidding £72, but there will be another sale, another day.
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