9 January 1998

Sheep trade is not a washout

ATROCIOUS weather stopped farmers marketing sheep early this week, driving prices up.

The 7p/kg rise in the across-the-board average at Gloucester on Monday made "a few people a bit happier", says auctioneer Gavin Loynes.

Although the £3 a head rise took a typical animal to £40 a head, many farmers are still facing a loss on bought-in stock, he says.

Wet and windy conditions left Gloucesters entry at about 1400 head, compared with nearer 2500 seven days earlier.

"In such weather, it pays to house sheep prior to sale if you have the facilities," says Mr Loynes.

Auctioneer Alan Venner at Exeter, Devon, says dirty lambs could be a big issue. "Theres an advantage to clipping them – but they should not be over-clipped or the value of the skin could be destroyed."

This view is echoed at Bakewell, Derbyshire, where, following last weekends storms, auctioneer Ian Lawton says: "Its twice the job to produce something presentable in terms of a clean fleece."

At Penrith, Cumbria, auctioneer Stuart Bell also attributes the 6p/kg rise in average prices on Monday to the weather-related drop in marketings.

Big numbers could be sold in January and February before the dentition rules deem them over a year old and, therefore, subject to the new control rules for Specified Risk Materials, says Mr Bell.

This rush to sell hoggets could leave a possible shortage later in the season – but it will probably be mid-March before theres any upturn in prices, says Mr Bell.

It also bodes well for the new-season lamb trade, as there wont be the hangover of hoggets late in the season that there was in 1997.

Meanwhile theres little pros-pect of any improvement. "As soon as offerings rise, prices could be back down again," says Mr Bell. "Theres masses of sheep about."

This sentiment is supported by Meat and Livestock figures which suggest 20% more hoggets could be marketed in the first three months of 1998 than in the corresponding period of last year.

But back at Gloucester, Gavin Loynes doubts this. "I dont think the backlog existed in the first place – and a lot of people have bitten the bullet and sold sheep anyway."