15 May 1998

Dorsets appeal bodes well for May Fair trade

By Tim Relf

FARMERS selling Dorset sheep are cautiously optimistic about the prospects for next weeks May Fair.

Despite lower prices of finished stock, Dorset devotees say the breeds suitability for early lambing will guarantee demand continues apace.

Dire prices of stores and prime hoggets in recent months have increased interest in early-lambing, says Jim Dufosee. He will be travelling from Warminster to the two-day fair beginning on May 18, at Holywell, where about 180 rams and 4000 females will be offered.

Unlike beef and grain it is, says Mr Dufosee, an enterprise in which there is still a margin. "At least it feels like we have got a market for them. For so many of the things we are producing at the moment, you sometimes question if anyone actually wants it."

Mr Dufosee sold the top price ram lamb in 1996 for £1220. The same year saw his females make to £108 apiece. In 1995, his females topped at £108 and last spring the figure was £62.

Frances Fooks, North Poorton, Dorset, says: "People havent got cash lying around, so prices will probably be below last years. But, with the Dorset breeding naturally out of season, we sell a product that everyone wants." Vendors could, therefore, be "pleasantly surprised" by values. "But at the moment it is anyones guess; no-one knows until the hammer falls."

For the past two seasons, Mr Fooks has sold the champion male exhibits at the event. He predicts one or two will top the £1000-mark next week, while more average sorts will make about £400.

Chris Kingdon is expecting a slight downturn in values compared with 12 months ago. There will, she says, be more buyers around at this years auction. For anyone abandoning beef in favour of sheep, the Dorset has a lot going for it. "More manageable and trouble free," she calls it.

Symonds and Sampson auctioneer Andrew Robinson reckons the upturn in the finished trade in recent weeks may boost buyers confidence. "But there isnt the money about for people to be bidding big money."

Last year, there were a lot of young breeding sheep at over the £100-mark. "But they will have to be exceptional, really exceptional, to hit £100 this time."

But it is a tough one to call and, when it comes to predicting values, Mr Robinson is keeping an open mind. "The most difficult one to call in 20 years," he says. &#42

On the wagon… with prices under pressure, selling breeding sheep could be a sobering experience this year.