30 May 1997

Cull ewes drop £20 since Apr

CULL ewe prices have fallen £20 since the beginning of April, with an auction average of £35 in the week to May 21.

The latest downward pressure on values has followed the end of the sheep annual premium retention period in mid-May.

The Monday to Thursday after this, for example, saw auction throughputs rise by 57% on the previous week.

The Meat and Livestock Commission says that prices could now weaken further. They are, however, likely to remain above last years levels.

Contributing to this is the limited ewe availability. Slaughtering between January and April were nearly a quarter down compared with the same period in 1996, for example.

A marked drop in cullings is forecast for the calendar year overall. After three years of high culling, the age structure of the breeding flock is younger, providing less scope for culling, says the MLC.

And this, combined with the strong demand for ewe meat from the processing sector, should support values.

The rise in marketings

The rise in marketings at the end of May was not, however, evident everywhere.

Auctioneer Michael Powell at Taunton, Somerset said farmers, anticipating a "flood on the market" held them back. And, at 1000 head, Taunton saw its lowest entry of the year on May 17.

By last Saturday (May 24) this was back up to 1350 head, which averaged just over £36.