Opinion: Tight supply pushes sheep prices up

The first weeks of 2014 have offered sheep producers rather more cheer on the price front than the corresponding period of 2013, writes Ted Odgen auctioneer at Skipton Auction Mart, North Yorkshire. 

Live finished sheep values are about 25-30p/kg higher, certainly helped by tighter supply of both home and New Zealand lamb, which has offset the stronger currency which stood at €1.22 (£1) on 14 February.

Store Sheep prices have also been much stronger in this period, as evident at our most recent sale at Skipton where Texel store lamb prices peaked at £94 (average £75). Mule Wethers topped at £75.50 (average £66) and Swaledale Wethers to £56 (average £50).

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Entries have been higher than 2013 as producers look to the store market to sell their last few lambs rather than finish them. As ever though, finishers should watch the market, and beware of making lambs overfat before marketing and so harming returns. Even with the wet weather, the three sales of in-lamb sheep held at Skipton have seen prices ahead of expectations, with correct Mule ewes recently trading at £100-125 each depending upon quality, and young Texel crosses at £130-200.

Across in the store cattle and young-bull ring the three sales held so far this year, have seen entries range from 800-1,100 head. Young feeding bulls have experienced a bit of price pressure as feeders look to respond to the changes to maximum age limits of 16 months imposed by some processors. But producers have changed to selling bulls slightly younger at eight to 11-months of age and farm assured, which has ticked the boxes for what the majority of feeders require; premium British Blue types still commanding £1,100 to £1,300, short keep types £900-1,100 with younger bulls for long-term keep £750-plus.

Bulls more than 12 months and not farm assured are the ones hurt the most. Bullocks and heifers have also faced price pressure in response to the lower finished trade, but with feeders wanting to keep sheds full, the strong bullocks are trading away at £1,150 to £1,300, best yearlings about £1,000, best continental heifers £1,000 to £1,200 and nice yearling types to £1,000.

Some buyers are now already looking for younger cattle to summer and these can be picked up for less.