Soay and Boreray auction experiences

This year I decided to take the plunge and make my first appearance as a vendor at the Rare Breeds auctions. For many years I had frequented these events and had nothing but admiration for those who were prepared to travel long distances in order to wrestle with reluctant livestock in the sale ring. I always felt strangely tempted to participate but the nightmare scenario of my sheep forming an escape committee or behaving in some other inappropriate manner had so far prevented me from getting involved. However, over the last few years the turnout for Soay and Boreray had been steadily dwindling and I considered it was time to make my contribution.

The private sales were not going terribly well this year. There had been an encouraging trickle of telephone enquiries but gasps of utter horror whenever prices were mentioned. I got the distinct impression that the majority of prospective purchasers thought I was going to donate my sheep free of charge! So I sat down with my entry form and randomly selected 10 little sheep to take to the National Show and Sale at Melton Mowbray. I chose 4 Boreray and 4 Soay ewe lambs plus a ram of each breed. In view of the fact that 2 arms and 10 feisty little sheep do not constitute a show-winning formula I needed to decide whether to enter any animals into the show which was scheduled to take place on the opening day. After careful consideration I chose to enter only the 2 rams but all 10 animals would be entered into the sale on the following day.

Get the sheep used to a small area

A couple of weeks before the sale I commenced preparations by housing the sheep in a small area indoors. This had the advantage of getting them accustomed to close confinement and also allowed me to monitor them health-wise as – being sheep – they were duty bound to contract some deadly communicable disease just before the sale. They did not view this arrangement favourably for a couple of days and did their utmost to persuade me to release them but once it became clear that there was sheep mix and unlimited haylage on offer they seemed to adapt readily to life in “the shed”.

Eventually the big day arrived and at the crack of dawn I set off with a trailer full of sheep and a car laden with sheep food and assorted accessories. Upon arriving at Melton Mowbray Market it was extremely reassuring to see an army of stewards ready and waiting to offer assistance and deal with paperwork. The sheep were unloaded and settled in their respective pens within a matter of minutes and with the minimum of fuss – most impressive! With the sale scheduled for the following day there was ample opportunity to check out the trade stands and sample the various gastronomic delicacies that were on offer – after all, it would be rude to go to Melton Mowbray and not have at least one pork pie!! With the livestock settled and all the formalities completed I headed back to my hotel for a well earned rest.

Shows are good places to meet like-minded people

The following day was the day of the sale. The huge influx of prospective buyers and poultry vendors caused havoc in the car parks and torrential rain threatened to turn the whole day into a thoroughly miserable experience. However, it did not dampen the enthusiasm of the primitive sheep devotees who were happy to pay reasonable prices for the majority of the animals on offer. Unfortunately my 2 rams did not meet their reserve prices and had to return home unsold.

Having failed dismally to sell my rams at Melton I decided to try again at York. I chose a different Boreray ram this time – my senior ram “Billy”. In my eyes he was a magnificent beast who had sired some beautiful lambs but with such a limited following there was always some doubt as to whether Boreray would fetch decent prices.

The journey to York was particularly stressful as the car began coughing and spluttering in a particularly unhealthy manner on the way leading me to doubt its ability to complete the journey. When I did eventually arrive - admittedly a little early – the auction centre was deserted. They refused to allow me to unload my sheep quoting "DEFRA regulations" at me so the sheep had to stay in the trailer for an hour and a half. Then, having unloaded the sheep, I discovered that my Boreray ram - who by this time was in a particularly malevolent mood - was expected to share his pen with someone else's Heb tup lamb. I sensed a bloodbath and protested accordingly. This resulted in the poor little heb lamb being allocated a pen outside in the rain - not really my problem but I think his owners were rightfully unimpressed with the arrangements!

It took 3 of us to wrestle the ram into the arena

Billy won a pile of rosettes which sounds very impressive but as he was the only Boreray sheep there this was not exactly unexpected. It took 3 of us to wrestle him outside into the "show arena" then he behaved totally disagreeably in front of the judges. He went crashing through the fence in a bid to escape and then refused to stand still to be judged - I suspect that having his testicles groped by about 5 people was just a bit too much for him! He failed to win "Best Primitive" - the judges considered him to be a bit too big - but at least he didn't escape into the car park.

The following day saw the sale commence and I decided that this time there would be no reserves As a result my Soay ram sold for 28 gns - not exactly a fortune but not unreasonable on the day. I reluctantly had to let my Boreray ram go for a measly 15gns.

The quality of the livestock on the whole was good - there were LOADS of nice chickens and some adorable little Kunekune piglets but for once I managed to resist the temptation to buy and returned home this time with a very empty trailer!