Farmer Focus: Bought old ewes to ease sheep sale spend

By way of introduction, we run a livestock rearing enterprise, not a finishing unit. This is due to our high rainfall and heavy ground.

Our farm is mainly put down to pasture, although in recent years we have increased our brassica crops for winter grazing.

About the author

Joe Mault
Livestock Farmer Focus writer
The Mault family runs 850 commercial ewes and 60 suckler cows across 155ha (383 acres) near Corwen, North Wales. The farm produces Beltex and Charollais prime lambs and Charollais cross store cattle and Joe also works as a lecturer at a local college.
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Playing to the farm’s traditional strengths, we stock heavily with breeding animals. We fatten lambs away on tack, targeting the hogget market, while our store cattle are sold at Ruthin and Mold. We have recently been negotiating the sheep sales, enduring a huge amount of frustration and excitement, and a small amount of relief.

See also: Strong ewe lamb market presents big gamble

It has certainly been a seller’s market, with averages across most marts breaking records.

We tend to buy Welsh-type sheep. Yearling Welsh Halfbreds and Llandovery Whitefaces have been good to us in previous years. However, this year, due to the price, I bought some aged pure Welsh ewes and, on reflection, these look the best value. 

We have been cautious with our purchases and have averaged £130 a head, but this includes yearlings and a small number of aged ewes to save money.

The prices spent on breeding sheep causes me to question if it is sustainable to pay more than £200 for ewes. With lamb prices above £2/kg, you can argue that £200 for a breeding ewe is perfectly reasonable, but I fear that the £2/kg lamb is the part that isn’t sustainable.

The risk associated with farming is nothing new, but I think they have recently become bigger, and investing in sheep without knowing the probable return nine to 12 months later is hazardous to any business.

Although I have said the lamb price is unsustainable, I do firmly believe our produce should earn the price it deserves, which means £2/kg or more.  

If we have confidence in the lamb market, investment in our businesses will follow. Future trade deals across Asia and the US will hopefully provide some confidence in the market. But I remind myself that for the past 40 years we had a stable market in the EU, and that didn’t help the stability of the lamb price.