GOOD rams are in demand across the South West as breeders look to bring in new blood to their flocks. The livestock markets at South Molton, Blackmoor Gate and at Holsworthy are in the middle of their autumn ram sales and there has been a record paid for a champion of one breed. Richard Howe reports.
THE bidding began slowly and sheep breeder Leonard Richards had a worried look as he showed off his best Devon Closewool ram.
But his frown gradually disappeared as the pace quickened in the ring at Blackmoor Gate market.
Soon he was wearing a broad smile as the bids topped £1,000 and eventually went to a record for the breed of £1,080.
Three rosettes decorated the shearling's fine fleece, all earned during the preceding show.
"I was very pleased." beamed the 86-year-old champion of Closewools, genuinely surprised his ram had broken the sale record.
"He's a very good sheep, I must admit. He's one of about 20 I picked out last autumn.".
"I look after them all the way through the year and try to give them a good start, feeding them up and washing them ready for the summer shows."
Mr Richards of North Heasley has been breeding Devon Closewools for more than a quarter of a century and has earned a reputation among sheep men and women across the South West for the quality of his stock.
Probably the biggest complement came from William Dart, from Messrs G Dart of Great Champson, Molland, who bought the record-breaking ram to introduce fresh blood to the 250 Devon Closewool ewes on his farm.
Mr Dart said: "He's a good sheep and the scarcity makes him sell.
"It was my son who picked him out.
"He stands well and is exceptionally good in the legs and feet. Everything that Leonard turns out is well turned out."
Meanwhile one of Ronald Nicholls prize-winning rams from Woodlands Farm attracted close attention from breeders Emma and Tim Cox of Drewsteignton in South Devon.
"We're starting a purebred Closewool flock and we wanted to start with the best so we decided to go for it," said Emma after paying £450 for their reserve champion.
The Cox's put a high value on native breeds, also keeping Devon cattle.
Mrs Cox said: "The Closewools are very hardy sheep and you can keep them in harsh conditions like Dartmoor, and they are still a good size."
The 455 rams on show included a big contingent of Blue Faced Leicesters.
The best sold for a top price of £840 for Brian Dallyn of Killington Farm, near Parracombe, bought by Exmoor Forest Farms.
The buyers also took two more of Mr Dallyn's prime run.
He was happy to see such a healthy gathering of the breed considering how difficult a year they have been through.
He said: "There's been plenty of grass but the value in it hasn't been so good.
"All the sheep have had good concentrates. They're big strong, powerful sheep but you mustn't over feed them."