14 June 1996

Higher summer numbers may knock cull ewes

By Tim Relf

CULL ewe prices remain firm but could weaken over the summer as marketings increase.

Having fallen about £9 to £31 a head after the end of the retention period in mid-May values have since firmed. Monday markets this week show light culls at £31 and heavies about £38.

The drop partly reflected the rise in marketings, with a 13% increase during the last two weeks in May, according to the MLC.

"Once lambs have been sold – whether as stores or finished – farmers will look at their flocks and decide upon their culling policy," says auctioneer Brian Pile at Banbury, Oxon. But demand will stay strong, offsetting any downward pressure on values, he suggests.

"We are seeing a complete range of weights from 30kg to 80kg live-weight. But as long as they are not too fat there is demand for them."

Strong ewe prices, combined with this years brisk lamb trade, bodes well for the summer sheep sales, he says. "Plus some farmers are despondent with beef and if they have permanent pasture they may decide to switch to sheep."

Auctioneer Neil McCleary at Longtown agrees. He saw trade about £2 to £5 a head easier in the second half of May, although it has since risen. Next month could see slightly weaker prices as numbers increase again, he thinks. "Ewe prices tend to follow a similar pattern to lamb values," he says, "often running at two-thirds of their level." Export demand has helped trade, adds Mr McCleary.

But ewe meat exports are down over 40% this year compared with 1995, says the MLC. This has been partly due to higher prices. It also reflects lower availability. Between January and April there were 794,000 ewe and ram slaughterings this year – over the same period last year the number was 822,000. &#42