8 August 1997

Any profit from store lambs?

STORE lambs continue to make record prices, prompting some to question whether buyers are pricing themselves out of a profit.

Sales of stores over the last week have seen averages well over the £40-mark.

At the same time, however, finished lambs were in some cases struggling to top 100p/kg, grossing less than £40. Buyers, it seems, are banking on price rises in the autumn and winter.

Ashley Ward at Guildfordmart says with store cattle inshort supply, farmers havebeen "buying mouths". A lot of people will be aiming for thepre-Christmas trade, he says.

"But someone is going to be disappointed in the next six months."

Brian Clothier, who farms on the Mendip Hills near Bath, reckons the trade is too pricey. Normally, hes bought about 2000 by the beginning of September. So far this year, however, hes sourced only about 60 stores.

Lambs dearer to buy

"With lambs dearer to buy and cheaper to sell, both ends of the market are wrong," says Mr Clothier. "What is worrying me is the strength of the £ and how difficult it will be to export lambs next year."

Currency movements could draw in more New Zealand product next spring, he fears.

"A lot of grass and a fat cheque book can make a fool of anyone," says Mr Clothier.

"And we can always buy them later in the season if need be."

Meanwhile hes upped cattle numbers. "Were selling some store cattle – and they have been making good prices – but were not investing the proceeds back into lambs."

There was, however, no shortage of people investing in lambs at the Bicester Fair, held last Friday and Saturday in Buckinghamshire.

"Every one of the 8000-plus store lambs on the field found a buyer," said Midland Marts auctioneer Brian Pile. Average price was £39.76.

Finished lambs could be in short supply later in the year, with a lot already gone for slaughter. And sterling could weaken, boosting the live and dead export trade.

But based on the current slaughter trade, its difficult to see where the room for profit is, says Mr Pile.