12 January 1996

Unseasonal dip at sheep markets

By Tim Relf

CONTRARY to the pattern seen in the past two seasons, finished sheep prices have dropped early in the new year.

This was reflected in Mondays standard quality quotation, which fell nearly 6p to 118.4p/kg.

But many auctioneers say that hogget supplies will now be tight.

"Prices could weaken slightly in the coming weeks depending on demand," says auctioneer Robin Nettleton at Bridgnorth, Shrop-shire. "But numbers will be short – especially in lowland areas – and trade will probably firm after that."

Mondays entry of 1630 hoggets at Bridgnorth averaged 121.3p/kg.

On the same day at Highbridge, Somerset, auctioneer Maurice Wall saw 600 hoggets average 119p/kg. The lower prices – down 10p/kg on the week – were partly due to the lower quality on offer.

Heavy rain also contributed to the decline in numbers, which were at half the previous weeks level.

"Prices may now follow a similar pattern to last year," suggests Mr Wall, "with a fairly static January, being followed by increases."

Farmers have been paying £45 for store lambs, so they must be fairly optimistic, he suggests. And some people will still be buying them in April.

"Sometimes, there is an even greater demand for hoggets when the new season lambs are rolling in." On Apr 24 last year, 549 new season lambs averaged 144p/kg at Highbridge; and 1313 hoggets still levelled at 126p/kg.

There will, therefore, be no great anxiety to get hoggets finished early, says Mr Wall.

Auctioneer Paul Carter at Darlington, Co Durham, agrees. With stores typically making about £40 on Monday (£47 for the best), farmers must be confident that there cant be too many sheep in the pipeline, he suggests. &#42