14 March 1996

Cull values up for lean ewes

FARMERS with any spare ewes should sell them now.

That is the advice from auctioneers, with cull values in the week to Feb 26 averaging over £50 a head. And that hasnt happened for nearly a year, when demand was boosted after the BSE scare erupted.

Ryan Stockbridge at Welshpool, Powys, says supplies have tightened since the retention period for sheep annual premium began.

He saw an average last week of £42 – even though about three-quarters of the entry were small "Welsh denomination" sorts in the 36 to 38kg range.

"Fat is still a dirty word, so the leaner the better," says Mr Stockbridge.

But even if numbers continue to tighten, further price rises are unlikely, suggests Mr Stockbridge.

"Leaner ewes look the dearest," agrees Brian Pile, who sells at Banbury, Oxon. "Take advantage of the buoyant trade, by cashing culls and buying in lambers or ewes with lambs.

"But be careful not to fall foul of the premium and quota rules in doing so."

Supplies tightened last week at Longtown, Cumbria. But there again, the week before did see a record entry of 5400 head.

Auctioneer Neil McClearys prediction is that Irish farmers will once again sell ewes in Longtown once their retention period ends on Apr 23 to take advantage of the buoyant trade.

Even though it might cost, say, £4 a head to transport them, it is still worthwhile, he reckons.

Phillip Blackman-Howard at Hereford, meanwhile, reckons fewer farmers will claim premium next year.

Many prefer to forego the money – and the hassle involved – to be able to sell ewes when they like, rather than being tied into the retention period.n