29 September 2000

Finished store lamb prices leap forward

By Simon Wragg

GOOD prospects being seen for store lambs are helping to push current trade forward with values up on a year ago, report auctioneers.

The main driver in this market is the finished price. Weekly figures suggest that standard weight entries (32.1-39kg liveweight) averaged 80.7p/kg last week compared with 65.4p a year ago. The 15p/kg difference reflects three factors – lower slaughter numbers, retail promotions and a rising skin price.

MAFF UK slaughter statistics to mid-September suggest the number of sheep and lambs put through plants is down by about 400,000 head on the same point last year – roughly a weeks supply – at almost 10m animals.

To buoy up demand when exports are still battling against a strong £, retailers have been busy promoting lamb joints and mince, with nearly all chains reporting some activity helping to shore up values.

Perhaps the biggest impact has been the gentle but persistent recovery in skin values. According to the British Leather Confederations Phil Hadley, these have increased week-on-week to about £4/skin.

"At this level, buyers can sustain the market price," he says. "Theres been a recovery in demand from Turkish manufacturers who supply the Russian trade, but if prices are allowed to rise to the highs of £6-7 each, we could be back to the boom-bust cycle again."

Lamb finishers are investing in the hope of reasonable returns this autumn, although numbers are expected to rise sharply. Those buyers heading south for stores are not paying over the top compared with northern venues.

At Ashfold, Kent, auctioneer Elwyn Davies of Hobbs Parker expects to shift up to 7000 stores each week into November. Last Fridays entry saw about 3000 Suffolk and Texel X lambs average £27/head, with the best at £30 apiece. Romney lambs – slightly smaller in the frame – were a little less, averaging £23.50, reports Mr Davies.

"Prices are about £4 a lamb up on last year – similar to the increase in the fat trade. Values should hold if the numbers being put forward and the level of enquiries are any gauge."

In the midlands, most centres are reporting encouraging sales. On the Welsh borders, Shrewsbury-based David Edwards suggests the trade is similar, with most stores making the high £20s. "Finishers have a lot of keep in front of them and are keen to buy. The prospect for grazing is good for those taking on extra from Oct 1 still having plenty of cover."

However, as the weather deteriorates, more stores will be coming forward as producers look to protect some grazing for this winters ewe keep, says Stephen Dennis, of Bentham, Lancs. Prices have come back marginally, which he suggests is "a numbers thing".

Other sectors are also benefiting from the improved finished market. Early sales of ewe lambs for breeding have generally gained pace. Last weeks annual offering at Tow Law, Co Durham, topped 12,500 head over two days and returned an average of £30.50/head, up £2.50 on the year.

Tow Laws Harry Vickers reckons buyers are not letting loose with their money: "Theres a sombre mood, but those buying replacements are getting value for money at current prices."

The better end of breeders ready for tupping this back end were £36-45 each, although running lambs – those that will not be put to the ram until next year – were back at £26-28 apiece. But vendors must have been willing to accept the trade, with fewer than 300 heading back to their farm of origin. &#42

Store and breeding lambs are firming, say auctioneers, partly due to later slaughterings.

STORELAMBS

&#8226 Prices up about £4/head.

&#8226 Number continue to build.

&#8226 Buyers see good prospects.