A trend towards stricter spring culling policies has resulted in a steady throughput of cull sheep at some UK auction marts, which have met a rising trade through the lambing period.
The GB average price for cull ewes has risen £10 in the past month, with auctioneers predicting further increases ahead as the main lambing season gets under way.
Auctioneers say last year’s cheaper breeding sheep trade has encouraged producers to replenish numbers, freeing up more unproductive ewes for culling.
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Numbers have remained strong at Monmouth this year and have only recently tightened during the main lambing season.
Just 276 culls were marketed last Wednesday (13 March), which ensured a strong trade despite varied quality.
Before this, about 800-1,000 head were being sold weekly since January.
Smart Texel-cross ewes made £108, £103, £101 and £98 a head. Mules topped at £79, with no strong mules forward on the day.
Only small or very plain ewes made less than £40 a head as 235 ewes average £66.91 and 33 rams averaged £72, up from averages of £43 and £52 in February.
Market manager Phil Anstey said: “Lamb prices are nothing like last year, when New Zealand lamb went into China. If lamb prices go up, the cull ewe trade will follow.
“A lot of sheep were £20 a head back on the year in the autumn sales.
This has meant some people bought in plenty of replacements and can cull hard.”
Hill-bred sheep have gone £7-£8 a head dearer and heavier ewes are £5-£6 a head dearer this month at Longtown, where a relatively kind winter has kept ewes in good condition.
Sheep sales manager John Walton oversaw the sale of 4,128 cull sheep last week (14 March).
The entry averaged £72.77, up £5.67 on the week.
“Numbers could tighten in March and April when farms are lambing and cull ewe trade could go dearer still,” said Mr Walton.
He added that farmers had culled barren ewes harder this year, with Longtown’s cull ring seeing more young sheep sold.
Mr Walton said “overfat” sheep have been very hard to cash, which he partly attributed to Food Standards Agency regulations on carcass temperature when leaving abattoirs.
“When they are chilled, the fat solidifies and the ewes don’t look as appealing as the leaner ewes.