15 January 1999

Cleanliness is key to higher sheep prices

By Tim Relf

FARMERS must get sheep clean for sale if discounted prices are to be avoided.

Thats the advice from experts, as wet weather increases the likelihood of animals falling foul of the Meat Hygiene Services tighter cleanliness requirements.

"We couldnt have a worse year," says John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association. "Hoggets finished on roots are particularly at risk."

There is, he says, no easy way to get stock up to the required standard. Get the worst of the clags off and, at least, make sure they are dry, he advises.

"Dirty lambs are certainly a problem," says auctioneer Gavin Loynes at Gloucester. And the option of housing them prior to sale isnt always practical, with cattle and ewes competing for space. Some dirty animals make a discounted price; the worst can end up going home.

Overall, however, the sheep trade is rising, says Mr Loynes. Trade at Gloucester, for example, was sharper on Monday, with the better export-types reaching 75p/kg. The days average at marts in England and Wales was 66.5p/kg, up more than 5p on the week.

"There are signs of optimism," says Mr Loynes. "There might not be the numbers about that people are talking about."

Auctioneer Rob Meadmore at Hay-on-Wye also reckons there are hopeful signs. Live exports have accounted for many and, with slaughterhouses running at full capacity, supplies could tighten as the season progresses.

While the problem of dirty sheep has been minimal so far, it could become worse, says Mr Meadmore. "Unless the weather goes frosty, it could be a real headache."

Farmers who take roots on which to finish stock – but dont have access to sheds – could encounter most problems. "In these difficult selling times, its all down to presentation. Sheep are making small enough money as it is."

Tim Udall of the Meat Hygiene Service says the issue is potentially worse than last winter. "The weather is being very unkind."

Cattle are also running into problems, he says. "It goes back to the wet and not very good harvest. With straw expensive, farmers are reluctant to use it."

&#8226 Farmers can get timely pointers from the Meat and Livestock Commissions new booklet, Keeping Sheep Clean, copies of which are available on 01908-844271. &#42