18 September 1998

Cautious optimism before sheep sale

By Tim Relf

OPINION is mixed about the prospects for next Mondays big National Sheep Association sale at Builth Wells, Powys.

Some farmers are drawing optimism from the venues early sale last month, when averages in most sections were up on the year, with a top price of 920gns.

But those heading to the event on Sept 21, where nearly 10,000 tups will be offer, are aware that weak prime lamb prices and bad publicity over BSE and sheep could take their toll.

One vendor who is relatively optimistic is Warwick-based John Brigg. Of all the sectors in farming, sheep are performing the best, despite last weeks talk about BSE. "Milk prices are on the floor," says Mr Brigg. And having sold a finished heifer last week for just 69p/kg lw, he dubs cattle values "laughable".

Demand, though, continues for rams. "Farming isnt the sort of industry you can pop in and out of. Farmers are eternal optimists."

Auctioneer Julian Gallimore, wholl be selling the Charollais, says the ram trade – like the bull trade – is totally dependent on supply and demand. "If youve got ewes, you need a tup," says Mr Gallimore. But this year, the price difference between the best and the rest could be bigger than ever, he suggests.

Shropshire farmer Frank Gwilliam says demand for rams will be bolstered by dairy and beef producers who have switched to sheep. "Apart from potatoes, everything else is in a serious state."

Sheep, though, have not escaped the vagaries of the market, suffering from the falling skin values and, more recently, the "nonsense" over BSE, says Mr Gwilliam.

"Sheep farmers know that a ram is half the flock. To pare back on tup prices is false economy."

Auctioneer Peter Bullen, who sells the Bluefaced Leicesters, is more pessimistic. The strength of sterling, problems selling skins and the "chronic" finished lamb trade will all take their toll, he says. "People will still want rams – but they will want them cheaper. Im pretty certain prices will be back."

This is a view echoed by Kington farmer Les Jones. "Therell be plenty of customers – but theyll have to have them at less money – certainly compared with last year when they went through the roof.

"People are taking a lot less for their cereals, so they have not got the cash to buy rams with. They may try to cut down a bit or do with one less."

Prices are unlikely to be any higher than those at last months early sale, says Mr Jones, because many buyers there were early lamb producers – and they saw a reasonable trade for their lambs this year.

&#8226 At the Builth sale last year, MV Suffolk rams and rams lambs averaged £341 and £265, respectively. Among the Texels, shearlings levelled £423, with ram lambs at £224. And Charollais shearlings were £450, with lambs at £337.

Come and get it… Elfyn Owen gears up for the Builth sale. Mr Owen is well-known around the Bluefaced Leicester pens, with sheep from his Cernyw flock at Llangernyw. Its a busy time of year for Mr Owen, who travelled to the Scottish borders for the Kelso ram sale last week.