19 March 1999

Easter may give boost to hoggets

TOP quality hoggets are expected to make good prices in the run up to Easter.

Poor weather and a reduction in the number of ewes sponged to supply early spring lamb have reduced supplies of new season lambs. And hoggets will be needed to meet the still-strong traditional seasonal demand across Europe.

Auctioneers, who have quizzed farmers about the number of new season lambs likely to be forward before the bank holiday, say there are fewer very early concentrate-finished ones in the pipeline. Wet weather is also slowing growth rates at grass.

After a quiet spell there are now signs of improved demand in France, the UKs biggest export market. This should benefit vendors with export quality hoggets, as should the "sell British" campaigns being run by supermarket chains.

Wholesalers are reluctant to predict how the market will move, but they anticipate prices will firm around the end of the month. Returns would be even better but for the crash in the price of skins. Abattoirs are now getting 50p for skins that were worth £10 last year for processing in Turkey and sale to Russia.

Owen Owen, managing director of abattoir operator Cwmni Cig Mon, forecasts that hogget prices should, at worst, be stable over the next two weeks – and should respond to Easter demand. But he warns suppliers that they should avoid the risk of excessively fat carcasses by selling sheep when they are ready.

"New season lambs are appearing very slowly, so hoggets are in demand, but quality is variable," says Mr Owen. "Producers have responded well to weather conditions and have managed to keep hoggets fairly clean, or are shearing them before marketing."

The average price of old-season lambs rose 0.2p to 92.39p/kg last week, despite a 19% hike in entries. This made the average return 4p/kg higher than in the same week in 1998 when 12,000 fewer hoggets were marketed.

Lesley Green, senior economic analyst with the Meat and Livestock Commission, is optimistic that prices will hold or possibly rise over the next fortnight.

She has detected no point-of-sale resistance to high retail prices and anticipates that producers will benefit from strong Easter demand for lamb.

"There is more confidence in the whole meat market than we have seen for some time," she says. &#42

No prime cattle flood in March

THE predicted flood of prime cattle hitting markets in early March has not happened.

And the marginal upturn in prices can, say auctioneers, be sustained for several weeks.

Finishers may now see a firming of the beef trade from late May into mid-summer as the expected shortage of cattle has an impact, according to comments from marts this week.

The 182 prime cattle forward at Newark on Monday produced an average of 114p/kg for premium steers and heifers. The overall average was 99p/kg with heifers dominating at 131 head and selling to 134.5p/kg. Auctioneer Paul Gentry said the "whoosh" in extra cattle numbers had not materialised.

"We have not seen more cattle coming forward because finishers have been bitten twice before at this time of year and they have become more cautious and are more orderly in their marketing.

"A few weeks ago I would have predicted cattle to be making 10p less a kilo than they are now. Producers are coping with these prices and are making just a modest profit," said Mr Gentry.

Many markets in the north west have also failed to see the increase in the numbers of prime cattle. Although finishers were expected to grasp the first opportunity to sell stock as they came off retention, there appear to be fewer in the pipeline than many anticipated.

Chris Dodds who sells prime cattle at Penrith, Cumbria, reckons supply and demand is just about on balance. Penriths weekly market drew an entry of 155 head last week – three less than the same week in 1998. The average price for steers and heifers was 95p/kg.

"That was up about 5p a kilo on the week before but I dont think it is going to go on rising. A sudden rush of stock on to the market would undoubtedly bring prices back.

"The big feeding men have reduced their numbers dramatically and whereas the north west has traditionally seen a lot of beef cattle produced from the dairy herd, the calf processing scheme has undoubtedly removed huge numbers of potential cattle from the system."

Trade was also boosted in the first two months of this year as buyers replenished stocks after the Christmas period, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission. February levels got a boost on the back of higher demand for forequarters by the manufacturing trade. In the four weeks to Feb 7, retail sales of beefburgers were more than 20% up on the same period in 1998. &#42

Wouldnt want to meet this lot coming the other way, would you…1000-plus store sheep en-route to new turnip grazing at Thetford, Norfolk, last weekend. Prices for hoggs could be buoyant in the Easter run-up.

Finished cattle sellers could have a bit more to smile about in the summer, if supplies dry up.

MAR 20 Dispersal of machinery and equipment. Clifton-on-Teme, Worcs. Russell Baldwin & Bright (01584-810666)

MAR 22 Auction of milk quota. Skipton, North Yorks. Craven Cattle Marts (01756-792375)

MAR 22 Sale of four tractors, combine, JCB Loadall, machinery and implements. Fitzhead. Somerset. Greenslade Taylor Hunt (01935-423474)

MAR 23 Dispersal of 120 Holstein Friesian dairy cows and 37 in-calf bulling heifers. Plus milk quota, machinery and equipment. Street, Somerset. Cooper & Tanner (01458-831077)

MAR 23 Sale of beef breeding cattle. Plus show and sale of bulls. Hawes, North Yorks. Hawes Auction Mart (01969-667207)

MAR 24 Machinery and equipment sake. Micheldever, Hants. FPDSavills (01962-883550)

MAR 25 Sale of 713 cattle for High Peak Livestock Society. Bakewell, Derbys. Bagshaws (01629-812777)

MAR 25 Dispersal of 230 Holstein Friesian dairy followers and youngstock and 158 Continental and Longhorn cross Friesian store cattle. Ham, Somerset. Cooper & Tanner (01373-831010)

MAR 25 Dispersal of the Ramsbury herd of 160 Holsteins. Marlborough, Wilts. Norton & Brooksbank (01285-841333)

MAR 25 North Western Club show and sale of 150 Holstein cows and bulls. Crewe, Cheshire. Wright-Manley (01270-250500)

MAR 25 North Western Limousin Cattle Breeders Association sale of prime and store Limousins. Ulverston, Cumbria. Ulverston Auction Mart (01229-582014)

MAR 25 Machinery and equipment sale. Cropwell Butler, Notts. Brown & Co (01476-591991)

MAR 26 Sale of agricultural and vintage tractors. Plus machinery and equipment. Abingdon, Oxford. Southern Counties Auctioneers (01747-851735)

MAR 26 First of two-day Continental cross store cattle sale. Carlisle, Cumbria. Harrison & Hetherington (01228-590490)

MAR 26 Tractor and machinery sale. West Horsley, Surrey. South East Marts (01483-447600)