Top bidding for a good cause

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Yorkshire holds the world record price for a lamb at auction. Chris Berry reports on a group dedicated to ramping up prices

The normal price for a lamb is now about 60-70. But how about 1,450? That's the record which could soon be beaten again when the Addingham and District Sheep Breeders' Association holds its fourth annual charity sheep sale at Skipton Livestock Market. It all started when John Mawson and a group of sheep farmers stepped into their local pub 12 years ago. "Myself, my brother Richard and two other local farmers, Joe Throup and Richard Ellis walked into the Craven Heifer in Addingham one evening," says John. "As we went through the door the landlord, Sam Renton, called out 'Ey up, t' sheep breeders' association's here!'"

There was no sheep breeders association. But a fellow sheep farmer who had heard landlord Sam's remark, phoned John the following day. "What's this association you've got going? Could I join?"

John, sensing the opportunity this might offer of another drinking night, quickly drafted a spurious and fictitious agenda, sent it out to the caller and within three months the newly formed association had 17 sheep farmer members. A dozen years on it is now quite a sizeable organisation.

"I think others quickly cottoned on to our drinking scam. You see, it's traditionally the farmer's wife who opens the post on farms, so when an agenda comes through we usually get told there's a meeting on and that we'd better go. Of course we wouldn't just go for a drink otherwise."

The association grew further when a local pharmaceutical supply representative offered to sponsor one of the meetings. This was swiftly translated into the purchase of a pie and peas supper, plus alcohol. "We'd never had one of those before we got the offer. The representative asked if we needed a guest speaker for the occasion but we politely declined. No need to ruin an evening's drinking."

When the wives and girlfriends finally started cottoning on, their partners cunningly arranged for an annual dinner where both sexes could attend. This now has a regular attendance of 120 and John came up with idea for how the booming organisation might help others. "We started running a charity raffle and that then turned into an auction because some of the items were worth quite a bit of money."

The charity sheep sale was the next step. "A few of our members were saying they had some good Mule wether lambs, so I thought we'd have a competition to decide who had the best. We told all our members to bring one lamb. We would have rosettes for the first four places and then all lambs would be sold through the auction. The one condition was that every penny went to charity.

"Skipton Mart waived their commission too, so everything sold in this one sale would go straight to the Manorlands Hospice, part of Sue Ryder Care, at Oxenhope which unfortunately many farmers in this area have had some reason to be involved with."

Joe Throup, who farms at Berwick Intake Farm, Draughton, had what they believe is a world record price for one of his lambs two years ago, when he took the best in show. It made 1,450 having been through the ring five five times. "People are so generous. They will buy the lamb then donate it back to the auction to be sold again. I think everyone just enjoys the fact that we're raising money for charity and has a good time doing it. Last year we made 5,391 and we're not too bothered what lamb you put in. We now get farmers who don't have a Mule wether lamb putting in a Texel X or a horned lamb. They all sell."

In keeping with the festivities, bottles of whisky and wine are also auctioned in the ring and a woman has donated a half tonne bag of sugar beet. Another woman has also donated a fat lamb which will be butchered and sold as two half lambs, boxed. What this means is that the sale appeals to one or two more buyers because people will buy a lamb so that they can stick it in their freezer."

Winning auction

Andrew Wood, a Sue Ryder fundraiser, says, "There is no finer example of the generosity of the rural and farming population. The event has raised 10,000 in the past three years." This year's judges are Mule sheep breeder Les Thackray from Mickley and James Bracewell, a butcher who bought last year's winning lamb. The charity sheep sale is next Wednesday at 11.30am, halfway through the weekly sale at Skipton. It is open to all, you don't have to be a farmer. Anyone wishing to put a lamb forward for sale, please call John Mawson on 07796 332750.

CW 11/12/10