17 August 2001

Breeding ewe sales frustration mounts

By James Garner

IN an average autumn, about 60,000 breeding ewes pass through Hawes livestock market in the heart of the Yorks Dales, with the first sale in September clearing a massive 35,000 breeding ewes in one day.

During these months, the "golden acre" as it is known is jammed full of pen upon pen of breeding ewes (generally North of England Mules) ready to be sold to lowland sheep farmers from all over the country.

But for the first time since the market opened in 1887, it will be redundant this autumn and the prospect of no sheep movements for the rest of this year is looming large.

Market manager Maurice Hall is stoically focusing on the future and how it can help move some sheep this autumn, if at all. He is very aware that a serious problem is reaching breaking point.

"There are a fair few imponderables that need to be sorted out within a month or two at the latest."

A postal survey conducted by Mr Hall showed him that there remains 25,000 ewes to sell this autumn from his regular customers.

"I was surprised there was as many as this, considering the number of sheep that have been culled and the number that will be retained."

The same can be said around the other markets in the area. All have fewer breeding sheep to sell because of the cull, but cant shift any because of the movement ban.

"Its not just our problem, its a north of England problem," says Mr Hall. The problem isnt finding buyers, its just being able to move the stock.

But the prospect of not being able to move these animals at all this season is now becoming a reality. "If restrictions were going to be lifted later in the year, then many breeders would hold on until then. But there is a lot of sheep on farms, which are getting bunged up with stock and breeders want to get rid of them."

One solution is to use farms that have lost stock through the cull to hold breeding ewes until it is safe to move them.

Ewes could be serologically tested on and off farms and it would allow farmers that have lost animals to get back into farming, earn some income and make use of their grass.

"The alternative is for 25,000 ewe lambs to be sold fat. This will probably depress the fat lamb trade even more and I think this is immoral because these ewes are wanted."

They are also needed. If breeding ewes arent transferred to lowland flocks then there will be serious affect on next seasons lamb crop, he warns.

Any ewes that do manage to change hands will probably be on a fairly flat trade, he says. "Its going to be a buyers market. Sellers have to sell, so I cant see a buouyant trade." &#42

BREEDINGEWES

&#8226 Several to sell.

&#8226 Buyers keen.

&#8226 Movements impossible at present.