Many of you may be asking yourselves, what are Mule sheep?
Great Britain has developed a unique
way of producing prime lamb, a.k.a market lamb. The process is traditionally called a 3-tier system. This 3-tier system has been perfected
over hundreds of years in the United Kingdom. It works because the breeds involved have been fine tuned to genetically mesh with each
other during each step of the system.
It all starts at the top with what is sometimes referred to as a “hill sheep”. A hill sheep
is typically the local or endemic breed to a given area or region, which survives well in its environment. Examples of a few regional
breeds are: Scottish Blackface in Scotland, Swaledale in Northern England, and the Welsh Mountain in Wales.
The hill ewes are
then bred to a Bluefaced Leicester ram to produce crossbred progeny referred to as “Mules”, Scotch Mules, North of England Mules,
Welsh Mules, Clun Mules, Cheviot Mules, and more recently Dorset Mules. The Mule ewe is the backbone of the UK’s prime lamb production
system. Fifty percent of all UK crossbred (commercial) ewes are Mules. These Mules inherit the vigor and hardiness of its hill dam
with the added benefit of an improved wool clip, increased size and capacity, prolificy (some flocks exceed 200%), early maturity
(it is common to breed the Mule ewe lamb in her first year) and milkiness from her Bluefaced Leicester sire.
The Mule ewe lambs
are either retained for the next step of the system, or sold off the farm in the fall at the livestock markets by the thousands. They
are purchased to make-up large commercial flocks for the UK’s “prime” lamb production. The Mule ewes are then bred to terminal sires,
with the preferred ones being either a “British” Suffolk or the Texel. This third step in the system produces a carcass lamb that
easily reaches market weights off milk and grass.
Here in the States there has been an increased interest to replicate the UK’s
3-tier system. Several breeders of hill type ewes have acquired Bluefaced Leicester rams for Mule sheep production. They then
either market the Mule ewe lambs, or in some cases complete the system by breeding the Mules to either a UK genetically improved Suffolk,
or a Texel sire. This type of prime lamb is filling a growing niche in the specialty trade to restaurants, internet and catalog orders,
the ethnic market, and the ever growing demand by consumers for a wholesome, grass fed product.
Prolific, Hardy, Milky
MULES - The Natural Choice!
for more information on Mule sheep visit: www.MuleSheep.com