26 June 1998

Store lamb buyers to take wary view

FEW people doubt that store lambs will be making less money than last year when the big summer sales start next month. The question now is how much less.

Buyers will be cautious after last season when many paid £40 for stores, only to find them worth nearer £30 when it came to slaughtering them. Costs like feed, worming and labour had to be taken into account, too.

Brian Pile, who will be an auctioneer at Bicester Sheep Fair on Aug 7-8, says: "The men who got their fingers burnt last year will say they want to buy them at £25 or less. But they wont get them that cheap."

Buyers will end up paying around £30 for typical animals, he reckons.

Supplies wont be excessive, either, with farmers having taken advantage of the buoyant trade to sell them finished. It would be a different matter if finished prices fell to, say, £1/kg or less, says Mr Pile. "Then, people wouldnt bother to keep drawing them week by week, preferring to save work and hassle and sell them all as stores."

Philip Dale, who will be in the rostrum at Ingham Sale on Jul 17, reckons the tight supply and demand equation will push prices up to above the level buyers want to pay.

Lambs that last summer would have made £38 will be changing hands for between £30 and £35 this year, he predicts.

Fewer will be offer across the country than a few years ago, he adds. Where people can plough land, many have – switching from livestock to cereal enterprises. "Some farms and big estates have gone out of sheep completely. They cant just go back into stock, just because grain prices have fallen."

Some confidence has returned recently, with new-season lamb prices at times higher than a year ago, says Mr Dale. Grass is also a big factor – and buoyant supplies will encouraging bidding.

But buyers, he reckons, wont have forgotten the experiences of last year. "Some of the people who fed them over the winter took a hammering."

Brian Clothier, who farms in the Mendip Hills, says stores could make reasonable prices this summer. "But whether they will earn any money is another matter."

If you pay £30 or £35 for a store, you want £50 to £60 for it as a hogget for a reasonable profit. And if hoggets arent going to be making any more next winter than they were last winter, people shouldnt be paying more than £15 or £20 for them as stores, says Mr Clothier.

Auctioneer Alan Mummery, who sells at Horsmonden Fair in Kent on Jul 29, says: "We are all going towards it a bit heavy-hearted, having seen the hogget returns from last year.

"But there is plenty of grass and the lack of confidence in other enterprises, like beef production, could boost demand," he adds.

Fewer animals could be on offer at Horsmonden, says Mr Mummery. "Farmers, worried about what the summer store trade would be like, have creep fed lambs to get them gone."

Frank Day is a regular vendor at Horsmonden, first selling there more than 60 years ago. "I hope the drop wont be too big," he says. "Last year we got about £38/head – this time were looking for about £35."

That, however, is a lot more than a lot of buyers are wanting to pay. One things for sure, not everyone will end up satisfied.

Trouble in store…pay too much for store lambs this summer and you could lose money again.