15 August 1997

Breeding sheep worth big dosh

EARLY season sales show breeding sheep are worth big money this year.

As values rise above the levels expected by many, dealers and speculative buyers have been left looking on as farmers bid. And bid hard.

Hants-based trader Rowan Cherrington was surprised how buoyant prices were at the Bicester Fair, one of the biggest early auctions.

Among the theaves, nearly 12,000 Mules averaged £84.90. The 4300-plus Suffolk cross Mules levelled at £69.34.

Farmers who have been culling heavily are looking for replacements, he says.

At the same time dairy producers continue to leave the industry. Some, says Mr Cherrington, may look to ewes to graze theirgrass.

They probably do not want to lamb them, so they may buy ewe lambs, "run them round" and sell them next year.

"Prospects of a long, drawn-out harvest – with combines still rolling in September – might have prompted some farmers to buy early in the season."

Plentiful grass supplies, which have given the store trade such a shot in the arm this year, have also contributed to the extra confidence, he adds.

Auctioneer Brian Pile, who was in the rostrum at Bicester, says farmers turning their backs on beef was also a factor.

"Some marginal arable land could also get sown to grass, in the face of weaker grain prices," he says.

Meanwhile at Exeter, auctioneer Alan Venner says that among the early-season offerings, it has been the four-, six- and full-mouth sheep that have shown the biggest increase on 1996.

"The farmers who are coming in to sheep – perhaps for the first time – because the beef business is in the doldrums, will prefer the older sheep. They are easier to lamb and easier to manage."