(Cumberland and Dumfriesshire Farmers Mart)
TREAT cull ewes a little more like lambs when it comes to marketing them.
Thats Haig Murrays advice to farmers, some of whom have, he says, traditionally treated ewes as nothing more than a by-product.
But that attitude should change, as the pressure on incomes intensifies. "Rather than just dumping them on the market once or twice a year, it makes sense to sell them when they – and the market – are most favourable."
He advises farmers to speak to auctioneers about the trade and keep a close eye on the animals condition. Of prime importance is not letting them get too fat – something that can happen virtually overnight.
"Theres no point in keeping them on, thinking that if they are getting heavier and fatter they are getting worth more because they are not."
Farmers have delayed selling ewes in recent months, not least because prices have been so much lower than the levels of a year ago. At Longtown last Thursday, for example, light and heavy ewes averaged £21 and £31 respectively, down £8 on 12 months earlier.
Entries, meanwhile, are running about double the level of last year, with last Thursday seeing about 6000 head forward.
"It is partly because producers, aware of the lower values, have been putting off the evil day of selling for a long time. But now the time has come when the ewes have to go." Most of those coming in are broken-mouthed animals, which have reared five or six crops of lambs.
Big numbers are also arriving in the market because the breeding sales are only a few weeks away and money and space are needed to accommodate the newer ewes.
At the upper end of the price scale are the big Suffolks and Texels which can make £40 to £50, while the small, plain hill-type sorts are changing hands for less than £15. Demand exists from graziers for those at the bottom end of the size range. "If you can buy one for £12 and turn it in to a £20 one, that will pay more than a lot of store lambs have."
Farmers selling ewes, however, will need to find some money from elsewhere to put with the proceeds to afford replacement breeders, says Mr Murray.
"A lot of people are talking the breeding market down, but there is always demand for them. Whether the lamb trade is good or bad, you cant breed lambs without ewes."
This means that the top-drawer North of England Mules will again be changing hands for £85 plus, he predicts. "Buyers tend to select on quality not price. They will pick a pen that they like the look of, then pay what they have to, within reason, of course."
With no sign of the numbers declining, prices of cull ewes, meanwhile, could fall further. The weather will also play a part. "If there is a heatwave, one of the first things that people stop eating will be mince and pies.
"But it is worth making the most of them – as with every other agricultural commodity."
Farmers looking to invest the proceeds of cull ewe sales at this summers breeding sheep auctions could find their money wont go very far, with cull values having fallen. All the more reason to sell them at the optimum time, before they get too fat, says Haig Murray.