Cull ewe prices have strengthened this year despite supply lifting, as sky-high prices in China and New Zealand help demand for UK product.
Prime lamb prices are 40% higher in New Zealand amid a flock rebuilding phase after drought challenges. Prime lamb is NZ$2 up on the year at NZ$6.95 deadweight.
New Zealand mutton and lamb production is down, with mutton slaughter back 23% to 3.125 million on 2013/14, allowing breathing space for an increase in cull ewe supply predicted by AHDB analysts as part of the three to four-year production cycle started by foot and mouth-enforced culling in 2001.
Chinese premiums, meanwhile, are diverting some of the lamb and mutton that is available, taking pressure off UK farmers.
Trade has lifted earlier than normal at Welshpool, where auctioneer Glandon Lewis is seeing “end of March and April trade” in early February.
Monday (12 February) saw 1,629 culls average £49 topping at £125 with strong Texels. The week before (5 February) 2001 ewes were £6 back on the week at £45.81.
Stronger ewes are averaging £80 and typically hitting £80-£115, while the smaller end of the hill sheep are at the £35-£36 mark.
“Averse weather is affecting the amount of meat on some ewes, some which go unsold,” Mr Lewis told Farmers Weekly.
Trainee auctioneer Sion Roberts has seen medium-sized types (Beulah, Welsh Mountain and Speckled face) in good condition lift £15 in the new year as the upland flocks start scanning and pulling out empties.
Stirling Caledonian Marts
An extra 300-500 sheep/week have not hurt prices at Stirling Caledonian Marts, where trade is level on the year despite 35-40% more sheep going through the ring.
Alastair Logan, auction operations manager, says that good prices are available but quality matters. And, although sheep are in reasonable condition, there has been a need to clear out more empty sheep from lowland flocks after some disappointing scanning results.
Last week (6 February), 248 heavy ewes levelled at £79.97 and 303 export ewes sold for £39.38, slightly back on the week when heavies made £80.44 and export types made £52.31.
“People aren’t holding onto empty sheep,” says Mr Logan. “Even people with empty gimmers are being sent down the road. But if you can get £100 for her and buy a strong sheep scanned with twins this makes sense.”
Huge throughputs of 4,725 and 5,098 in the past two weeks have seen trade up £2.30 a head for light ewes and up 50p a head for heavies on the year.
Supply has been partly bolstered by a rise in empty ewes as lowland flocks assess scanning results and some thinner cull ewes are marketed after a winter on feed to add cover.
“A wet summer and autumn meant sheep were kept over winter to add a bit of condition,” says auctioneer Nick Woodmass. “We are seeing some of these being marketed now.”
Better hill sheep such as Scottish Blackfaces have improved £10-£15 head in price in the past month from £45-£55 to £60-£77, he adds, with smaller ewes that were £20-£30 up nearer £50-£60 mark.