Chink of light as the long year closes

3 January 1997




Chink of light as the long year closes

BSE had ensured this was a spring no-one would forget. Summer came and, for many, making it through the year, business intact, was the chief objective. It wasnt all bad news, however. Following on from last week, FW looks back on the second half of 1996 from the auctioneers rostrum…

JULY: After the Royal Show, a trip to the summer sheep fairs is next on the list. Pastures are dry – but not as dry as in 1995. And confidence is running high. At Horsmonden in Kent, store lambs average nearly £37. Rumours of a link between BSE and sheep cause a temporary blip in prime lamb prices. Busy days, meanwhile, at the Royal Welsh at Builth Wells – too busy say those stuck in long traffic jams. Dairy farmers might use the time to discuss the Intervention Boards ban on the trading of milk quota in multiple lots. And a long way from dairy country in East Anglia, historic Kings Lynn mart closes its doors.

AUGUST: Is there no end in sight to the crisis, beef farmers ask, when rumours of a cow-to-calf BSE link further hit cattle values. Hay and straw makes disappointing prices, echoing the lacklustre trade for standing samples earlier in the season. Unlike 1995, no panic-buying is driving demand. Cull ewes continue to sell well – averaging nearly £30, theyre worth twice as much as 12 months before. At Malverns Sheep 96 event, sheepdogs go under the hammer, averaging £577. Perhaps Shep 96 would have been a more appropriate name.

SEPTEMBER: Demand at the autumn round of dairy dispersals is hit by the backlog of over-30-month cattle on farms. Dairy farmers arent busy buying standing maize crops, however, demand for which is limited. Typical prices are about £640/ha (£260/acre). Theres no shortage of rams of offer, either. At Kelso, 6720 go under the hammer in 18 open-air rings, grossing £2.94m. Suckled calf sales kick off, returning average prices typically £80-£100 down on the year before. Heifers and older calves are worst hit. But if youre in the machinery business, youre probably more interested in attending Cambridge Machinery Sales first auction at its new site.

OCTOBER: A month of records. New breed records are set when 56,000gns is given for a Scottish Blackface sheep at Lanark and a Bluefaced Leicester ram lamb makes £9500 at Hawes, N Yorks. North of the border, Highland Cattle breeders celebrate their 100th autumn sale at Oban. And Hereford breeders gather for their 150th anniversary show and sale – at Hereford, not surprisingly. Europes biggest collective sale of bulls takes place at Perth but, as elsewhere, averages are down on the previous sale. Lighting up the Charolais ring, however, were two bids of 20,000gns.

NOVEMBER: Primestock shows get under way. One of the earliest is the National at Bingley Hall, Staffs. Theres the visit to Smithfield to fit in, too. Finished cattle prices climb on the back of Christmas and intervention buying. Trade improves for dairy cattle, too, as progress with the cull gives a fillip to demand. Just like old times, according to some auctioneers. But for lamb producers its a nervous wait to see if industrial action in France affects demand and prices. Smiles in the pedigree world, however, as a world-record price of 17,000gns is paid for a one-crop Suffolk ewe at Perth. Not a bad day for the centre, with a 10,000gns ewe lamb record also being set.

DECEMBER: Milk production turns up suddenly – but the prospect of superlevy seems a little less likely, with the government announcing a 100,000-head selective slaughter scheme. Primestock shows are in full swing, lightening the atmosphere at some markets. Behind the "big" prices traditionally paid for the best animals, however, the rally in prime cattle values runs out of steam. At Tenbury Wells, first-quality berried holly makes £1/lb. And a new market opens at Northampton. A sign of confidence in the future at the end of a year when confidence has been in short supply…n

All the fun of the fair… strong demand was evident throughout this seasons sheep fairs.


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