20 November 1998

Better trade in long-keep store lambs

A HINT of confidence in long-keep store lambs is bringing a better trade for tight-skinned, well-shaped Suffolk and Texel crosses.

But horned lambs are causing indecision among hill men – and some north country flocks have not started to sell any as they wait for a sign of better prices.

Other hill farmers, with deadweight offers ranging from £1.05 to £1.35/kg are opting for "damage limitation" selling.

Farmer Brian Lawson, Richmond, North Yorks, will be sorting through 500 Swaledale wether lambs this week and plans to take the £1.05/kg on offer through Leyburn Auction Marts deadweight scheme for lambs under 14kg and £1.35/kg for any over this weight.

"They have been on trough feed and they are starting to cost money. Last season we had 900 lambs left in January but I am not very confident about the post-Christmas market for horned lambs this time," said Mr Lawson.

A brighter note, however, has been struck in store lamb sales at Kirkby Stephen Auction Mart, Cumbria. Auctioneer Stuart Bell says some specialist feeders are carefully sorting through the weekly sale of around 3800 lambs.

"The top end of long-keep lambs are finding a ready market and I think they are worth a gamble. Buyers are looking for a £10-£15 margin on prime hoggets for March and April selling. This will only be earned by tight-skinned, smart, well-shaped lambs to carry through into spring.

"The right sort are in short supply. There may only be 500-600 a week here that fit the bill," said Mr Bell.

Most of these lambs are heading for Yorkshire farms at around £22 apiece – slightly more than they were making this time last year. "They must have some potential to grow-on without getting too fat. They will be on sugar beet tops until mid-February and then pushed hard on troughs."

Despite wide variation in predictions for post-Christmas market trends, Mr Bell feels prices will lift in spring for better quality hoggets. "They must be bred out of Mules or Half-breds, not out of horned types."

Finisher Alistair Comer, of Wedmore, Somerset, has been taking delivery of stronger Suffolk cross store lambs this week bought in northern markets.

"Id like to be paying about £20 a head but its getting towards the mid-£20s. Its a big gamble but well probably keep selling through the season. If we had a lift of 10p/kg it would make all the difference," said Mr Comer.

"Much depends on how many hill lambs are still to come forward. Some say there are still a lot in the system." &#42