AFTER BULLS, rams are our next most important sale product so, when Kelso Ram Sale which is an outdoor event and in the mind of a simple farmer, the least unsafe method of selling sheep, was cancelled I wondered how we would ever market them.

Thanks to support from our regular buyers, which was greatly appreciated and a magnificent effort from the auction marts, the last of our rams left the farm in late September. Receipts were less than in 2019, when we had an exceptionally good year, but not too much.

Sales of all kinds of commercial sheep have been buoyant beyond expectation. With Brexit looming, I am not sure why, but we take it when it is offered.

As often happens, this didn’t always reflect in the ram sale prices. The picked rams were the biggest beneficiary of the good ewe and lamb trade. While these made the headlines and inflated sale averages, many good commercial tups sold at little above break even.

This year's ‘must haves’ for a big price ranged from 'a black teardrop and a great earset' to 'a great skin'. The latter means the less the better. It must be a sign of age but I find it harder and harder to keep up with fashion which so often seems divorced from commercial reality. Maybe it always was.

I was interested by comments of James Porter in a recent 'Farmer's View' on breeding strawberries and potatoes that 'the Holy Grail had always been the golden combination of yield, disease, pest resistance and flavour, because invariably there is a conflict between the goals.'

Similar sentiments were made in print by local man, Hugo Lee, about his poultry operation that 'breeders are continually looking to produce the perfect bird, but sometimes the changes they make to reduce aggressiveness have a knock on effect on other traits'.

Whether breeding tatties, fruit, laying hens or sheep and cattle, nothing has ever been any different. Almost always, breeding in something commercially desirable is only achieved by giving a little on something equally so, but maybe at the time less important economically. Success has always been in overcoming genetic antagonisms.

For the first time since 2009, our Suffolk rams made a higher average than our Texels. Although prices over the years have been higher for the Texels, the Suffolks are a much lower cost operation.

This is for a variety of reasons, but is in part due to the New Zealand influence in the Suffolk flock. We try to keep about 25% NZ blood – although this fluctuates. It has had a very beneficial effect on ease of management, thrive-ability and vigour.

The trade off is that the British bred rams we buy must have pronounced gigots. The smaller heads and reduced bone in the Kiwis don’t bother us.

Indeed, up to the middle of the 20th century, the Suffolks always had moderate heads and legs free of muffy wool and covered with smooth black hair. The lack of hind-quarter in the New Zealanders is, however, a concern and demands correction even if, like James with his crops and Hugo with his hens, we lose some vigour in the process.

The next job in hand is selling bulls at Stirling. No doubt the markets will, like the ram sales, lack the social factor, but we must be relieved they are going ahead at all. We must appreciate how well the auction marts have done in designing a system that is as safe as it can be and by rigorously insisting that farmers stick to the rules.

Let us hope that there is evidence that breed societies too have acted rigorously in enforcing honesty in recording birth data, as the pedigree cattle industry has, with some justification, been under a cloud.

Hopefully, changes are offing and the era of gigantic bulls in the junior classes at shows and sales is at an end. Blanket DNA testing will eliminate errors in pedigree.

Breed societies, by increasing inspections, will make it more difficult to falsify birth dates. It is now up to breeders themselves to report details of calving ease/difficulty correctly. Visual evidence on inspection of an unreported Caesar should automatically debar the calf from registration.

Information supplied by breeders, which reports no calving difficulties whatsoever or shows an extreme variation from results elsewhere where the sire is widely used, should not be used in calculating national EBVs. It is time now to put things right and inspire confidence in our product with commercial customers.

Meantime, a bountiful and – thanks to Roundup – an easy harvest has come and gone while Brexit negotiations rumble on. We should send Boris Johnston, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and anyone else involved in acting on our behalf a copy of 'The Art of the Deal, by, er, ahem ... Donald Trump.

Recent news of British beef re-entering the American market awakes the cynic in me. The initial ban by the US because of BSE in 1996 was certainly justified at that time. Continuing it for the next quarter century was not and is a taster of the American way of international trade negotiation.

The Americans banned Canadian beef around the same time for the same reason. Canadian ranchers told me that, although their government never admitted it, the Americans had just as much BSE as they had.

What they couldn’t deny was that their citizens were, like everyone else's, getting variant CJD. This they claimed was from eating squirrels.