By Robert Davies
SEPTEMBER has turned black for Welsh upland flockmasters selling draft ewes, and for specialist breeding ewe producers.
At some centres, returns plummeted on aged hardy ewes still capable of producing several more lamb crops under kinder lowland conditions. At Llanwrst in Gwynedd, Welsh Mountain ewes averaged £14 a head, compared with £30 last year. Some pens of small extreme mountain-type ewes did not attract a bid.
Similar falls were recorded at many draft ewe sales. Auctioneers described the trade as a disaster for farmers, whose returns from pure-bred lamb sales had slumped because of the impact of the strong Pound on exports to southern Europe.
The organisers of the leading sales of prolific crossbred ewes anticipated a price fall. The scale surprised them. The first Welsh Half-bred auction set the pattern when yearlings and ewe lambs were £20 and £22 a head down respectively at Ruthin. At the following Builth Wells sale the falls were £32 and £18.38 a head.
When the first autumn sale of Welsh Mule yearlings was held at Welshpool, there was again a good clearance, but the price crashed to £60.39 a head, two-thirds of the 1997 average. The next day 11,300 ewe lambs averaged £41.43, a fall of 38.5 percent on the year. Mule yearlings levelled at £54 a head at Ruthin, or £26.70 down on last year, and ewe lambs were £28 cheaper at £54.
At Castle Douglas, the second annual sale of Mule ewe lambs saw 9000 lambs average £31, down £26 on the year. At Stirling, Mule ewe lambs dropped £27 to £33.
At Newton Stewart, 2700 correct Blackface ewes averaged £24, down £29 on the year and the same class of ewes averaged £16 at Ayr, down a massive £32 on the year.
Blackface store lambs at Dingwall fell £14 on the year, the drop equal to the 1998 average. But at Dalmally last Saturday, Blackface lambs firmed by £1 on the week.