By Simon Wragg

CULL ewe values are holding up well as numbers start their seasonal climb.

Main centres reporting the better meaty types being worth around 30 each, a significant improvement on last year.

Throughput is the big factor in determining returns in this market, say traders.

According to MAFF slaughter data, the most recent weekly kill for the period ending 16 September was 49,000 head (ewes and rams); a slight rise on the same week last year.

Overall, numbers are up 26,000 head on last year.

There are three main outlets for cull ewes.

The ethnic market is the prime destination with demand rising steadily. However, smaller ewes – typically 16-21kg carcasses – can be shipped to the continent if overseas buyers decide UK lamb prices are too high.

Finally, there is the retail/processing trade for mutton mince, which is starting to pull back after a seasonal lull during summer.

While currency affects the overseas trade, payment for ethnic supplies can also carry some risk, says the trade.

But level demand is at least helping sustain values. A recovery in the market for sheepskins is also shrugging off the disappointing returns of last year.

Irish imports still compete with the mainland trade.

Although cheaper, haulage costs narrow the gap with some buyers suggesting transport adds up to 4/ewe.

Among the home trade Longtown market, Cumbria has already seen a flush of cull ewes forward, with over 6500 head entered.

The most recent entry saw smaller Cheviot, Blackface and hill ewes average 9.16 for the 2433 penned. Continental, meatier types saw 4147 head average 21.27.

At southern venues such as Exeter the trade from producers looking to feed on ewes is helping maintain demand. But wet weather has not helped vendors with a higher than usual entry of poorer, plain ewes pushing values down.

Last Fridays entry of 1792 ewes saw the best top 35, medium sorts at 27 and grazing ewes hold at 15-23 apiece, report auctioneers.

Latest Meat & Livestock Commission figures suggest that light ewes (by breed, not weight) are back on last week averaging about 11/head (down 1), while meatier types have moved ahead with averages now standing at 23 each (up about 3).