By Tim Relf

STORE lamb prices are in the doldrums, reflecting the lack of confidence in the finished sheep trade.

“Really miserable,” is the verdict on trade of auctioneer Alan Mummery at Maidstone, Kent. There, the 1200 on offer last week averaged £17 apiece. “That tells a story in itself. But what chance have the stores got when the fat trade is where it is?”

Early-season business, by comparison, was relatively brisk, says Mr Mummery. The 5000-plus that went under the hammer at Kents Horsmonden Fair at the end of July, for example, averaged £29.81.

“The people that sold them then are not exactly looking back with great glee – but that early trade takes a bit of beating.”

At Exeter, Devon, £22 was a typical price in October, compared with £35 a year before. Hardly surprising, says auctioneer Alan Venner, with prime lambs making about 30p/kg less (£12/head on a 40kg animal) over the same period.

sheep market
Inclement weather has slowed stocks progress, exacerbating the problem, adds Mr Venner. “Theyve not fared very well.”

Rob Meadmore, auctioneer at Hereford, has also seen the weather take its toll. “Putting more sheep on the land will just mean more mess for some people.”

Stores are now making anything from £12 to £30. “Most people that usually buy them are still buying, theyre just a lot more cautious – like the cattle buyers,” says Mr Meadmore. “And people need to make a profit this season to make up for what went wrong last time,” he adds.

Farmers should not bank on getting winter keep cheap this year, though. It could be in short supply, with ewes having been retained in the face of rock-bottom prices, says Mr Meadmore.