Ewe and lamb trade hit by long winter

Strong, and at times record-breaking, hogg and ewe prices are yet to hit early sheep and lamb trade, with buyers desperate for spring to come.

Some ewes at certain saleyards are showing the signs of a long and challenging winter, although quality sheep remain available.

Great Britain’s average standard quality quotation (SQQ) lamb price has strengthened for the past seven weeks, lifting 37.65p/kg since late January.

This left prices 52.15p/kg up on last year’s consistent trade, which fluctuated about 175p/kg (166-186p/kg) for five months before seeing a spring lift at the end of May.

See also: Record lamb trade lifts £14 a head in two months

The numbers

  • 241.4p/kg SQQ for 578 OSL lambs at Castle Douglas on 20 March
  • +33.7p/kg Lift on OSL lambs on the week at Ruthin as 1,467 hit an SQQ of 248.6p/kg on 20 March
  • £81.30 Average price of 513 cull ewes at Bridgnorth on 20 March
  • 89.2% The proportion of the 5,516 cull ewes that were farm assured in Scotland for week ending 17 March

Cull sheep meanwhile have skyrocketed £17 a head in Scotland in March, with averages up to £70, not far behind the Livestock Auctioneers Association average for England and Wales of £75 and £73 a head for the past two weeks.

Sedgemoor

Weather has cut numbers about 25% at Sedgemoor, where Tom Mellor of Greenslade Taylor Hunt says he would expect ewes with twins to be 10-15% dearer given the prime market.

“In two-to-three weeks’ time they might be a doddle to sell with more buyers in the markets but at the minute the cold is keeping people at home, there’s less selling and buying,” he told Farmers Weekly. “Current trade is very similar to last year.”

Last year they sold 365 with 507 lambs, but this year numbers are back to 191 with 283 lambs.

Exeter

Market sentiment for ewes and lambs is still strong at Exeter but a drop in quality has put pressure on prices, as a long and challenging winter has left some ewes lacking condition.  

Best cross-breds with twins are £190-£218 and singles are £91 a life, although thinner sheep showing the effects of a hard winter are pulling back trade by £5 on November values, according to Russell Steer of Kivells.

Since 6 October Kivells has sold 1,800 outfits at Exeter with 240, 300 and 400 going through the past few weeks.

“Quality is back but those sheep in good condition with strong twins are easy to sell. Trade is being dampened by quality, but not market sentiment,” Mr Steer told Farmers Weekly.

On the prime lamb side he said Euro Quality, Craven Arms, were struggling to source enough 39-42kg lambs, with many being 42-50kg.

Skipton

Craven Cattle Marts is now a month into ewe and lamb trade, with auctioneer Ted Ogden calling for spring sunshine and warmer weather to buoy prices, which, while decent, are only at last year’s levels.

This week (19 March), a smaller entry (148) sold to a stronger trade, leaving Texels with twins averaging £177, Mules with singles averaging £102 and Suffolks with twins averaging£180, with quality expected to be strong next week (26 March) at the special show and sale.

Mr Ogden said strong lambs had sold for £70-£80 a life, medium-sized ewes had made £60 a life and older sheep were about £45-£55 a life.

“Generally, outfits are a nice trade and anything with strong lambs is selling well,” he told Farmers Weekly. “We are selling about 100-200 outfits each week and in the main season of April and May will see 300-500, so we aren’t at full season yet.”