For many year farmers had bred Scotch Black Faced and Swaledale sheep and grazed them on the commons of Dartmoor. The breeds are well suited to the moor with thick wool to help keep out the harsh weather conditions. Flocks started by fathers and grand-fathers are leered to their own area of the moor.
During the late 90’s parts of Dartmoor entered Environmentally Sensitive Area Schemes and this meant a reduction in livestock grazed on the open moor. Some farmers kept their hill flock in and crossed them with a Blue Faced Leicester ram and began to produce their own mules, this lead to farmers selling the surplus to other local farmers. For many years farmers from Dartmoor and around the south west have been buying mules and mule lamb replacements from the north of England, but demand for locally reared mules quickly outstripped production and The Dartmoor and District Mule Ewe Group was formed and held their first show and sale at Tavistock Livestock Centre of 280 ewe lambs in September 2003.
The sale has since gone from strength to strength with numbers increasing and more interest from buyers eager to buy locally reared mules saving time and money travelling further a field. For 2008 an extra sale has been added to the calendar to help satisfy demand. The next step forward for the second is a Blue Faced Ram sale and will runs on the same day as the Blackface and Swaledale females sale. This continues to expand the market for breeders and buyers of Dartmoor mules.
The popularity of mule sales has also lead to better returns for black faced sheep breeders. Farmers are increasing and improving flocks to help fill the ever growing need for good quality mule ewe lambs. The future for the black faced hill breeds on Dartmoor looked bleak after reductions due to stocking restrictions, poor returns and the 2001 foot and Mouth outbreak. Now with the increase in mule production these breeds have a secure future.
The group itself has also grown with new vendors and buyers from the area. This has led to the name being changed to the South West Mule Group.
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