The outlook for 2011; sheep

While the recent cold snap has hit some sheep hard and seen some poorer finished sheep discounted, Archie Hamilton of Longtown Mart, Cumbria, says in general the trade this spring should be fairly robust.

“The hoggets should be a firm trade for the best of the lambs provided they are in spec and are what’s wanted. The worry will be that finishers who paid high prices for store lambs in the autumn will try to take these lambs to heavyweights in a bid to recoup their outlay.

“This will put a lot of them out of spec for both the export trade and the domestic trade and that will reduce demand for them. There’s a limit to what processors and retailers are prepared to pay for finished stock and they’ll not overpay just to help out finishers who bought dear store lambs in the autumn.”

On the cull ewe front Mr Hamilton doesn’t expect to see the stratospheric prices paid for ewes last spring as one of the main buyers pushing prices last year is no longer trading. “There may be a shortage in cull ewe numbers once farmers have finished clearing out the barrens after scanning, but even that won’t drive prices to where they were last year.”

And the exchange rate isn’t as favourable as it was last year either, so demand from Europe for sheepmeat has eased too, he believes. “There isn’t a lot of money about in many European countries and this is bound to have an effect on the sheep trade. With the exchange rate where it is UK lambs aren’t as appealing as they were last year. All-in this combination of factors could see hoggets £5-£8 a head less than they were at the same time last year.”

Looking ahead to the couple trade he says the right type of outfit should still be a good trade, but with forage stocks short in some areas this trade will be heavily influenced by the weather. “If we have a kind spring the trade could be good, but a further cold snap could hit the trade. They certainly won’t be any dearer than they were last year.”