A SPECIAL centenary celebration will take place between a sheep society and an auction mart later this year.

The annual show and sale of the Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Breeders' Association on Friday, October 1, marks 100 years of the event under the auspices of Craven Auction Marts and, to celebrate their long and friendly association, they are combining to stage a Centenary Champagne Sale at Skipton mart.

Buyers will be given a free bottle of champagne when they buy three lots, and with each subsequent multiple of three.

As the vast majority of sheep are sold as single lots, organisers expect some buyers to leave with enough champagne for a decent party.

The Wensleydale ram was the original sire of the Masham which, in the early part of the last century, was beaten in popularity only by the Scotch Half-Bred as the cross to be put to Suffolk, Hampshire and Oxford terminal sires.

However, the Wensleydale Masham fell out of favour when the show ring favoured the neat black and white facial markings of the Teeswater Masham. Its preference also spread to the commercial market where the trend was so great that, only 40 years ago, the Wensleydale declined to near-extinction.

But happily, the breed which is often referred to as the "aristocrat of the longwools" has since enjoyed a remarkable recovery.

So much so that, at last month's Great Yorkshire Show, the 1,581 sheep included 85 Wensleydales. Only the Texel, Charollais and Blue-Faced Leicester had more entries.

And the Wensleydale champion not only took the Longwool inter-breed championship but was also shortlisted to the last four for the supreme championship.

The breed association says that the crossing sire sector is now dominated by the Blue-Faced Leicester, but that breeders should not discard the large and hardy Wensleydale.

It points to the last MLC Ram Breed Comparison Trials which showed the Wensleydale ram, though not a terminal sire, produced the heaviest Class 3L lamb out of Scotch HB, Mule and Greyface ewes when compared with nine other ram breeds, including the Suffolk.

With abattoir and butchery costs increasing the society believes there could be further change towards large, lean lamb carcases that are ideal for boned-out and rolled lamb.

The wool quality is reflected in Wensleydale wool having the highest priced grade in the British Wool Marketing Board schedule.

The annual show and sale normally attracts up to 150 high quality entries and keen competition for the trophies. Buyers travel from all over the country, with a high proportion of commercial farmers seeking Wensleydale rams to put to their hill flocks.

It also gives new breeders the chance to establish a flock in the knowledge that each entry is examined by WLSBA inspectors, who reject any that do not match the necessary breed standards.

This year each class will be judged to sixth position by respected sheep breeders and judges J Ripley and A Bainbridge.

For the first time, black Wensleydales will also be sold at the sale.

Further details and catalogues are available from Barbara Metcalfe on 01388 777 852.