Downturn in price of breeding sheep

By FW staff

BREEDING sheep are likely to be changing hands for less money this summer than last.

So say farmers, auctioneers and dealers, who cite disappointing finished lamb prices over much of the last 12 months as the main reason.

Early auctions confirm such predictions. At Exeters June sale of early breeders and rams, the 2424 ewes averaged £55.52, down more than £17 on last year.

At Cockermouth in Cumbria, auctioneer Adam Day says: “Nobody expects them to be as dear as last year.” He reckons values could be similar to 1996.

But recent buoyancy in the prime lamb trade – albeit after a prolonged depressed spell – has brought some confidence back. Last week at Cockermouth mart, for example, there were 11 buyers around the ring, helping prices average 122p/kg.

“We certainly will not be giving breeders away,” says Mr Day. “The young sheep of a good conformation that produce a modern lamb that is required by the trade will be making the most.”

Auctioneer Michael Harrison, preparing for Malton Fair on 1 August, says: “Everything will be slightly less money.” But breeders will not drop in values as much as store lambs, he predicts.

The number of sheep on offer will also be a big factor. And numbers could be swelled by those hoggets retained by farmers last season in the face of low prices.

“But the best Suffolk cross gimmer shearlings will again be £90 or £100,” says Mr Harrison.

Essex farmer Gerald Ketley says the lower cull ewe values over recent months have left people with less money to spend on breeders. Culls which, two years ago, would have made £70 or £80 have made half that over the past year.

Mr Ketley says it is unlikely that the fierce demand for breeding sheep seen last summer will be repeated. “Back then, people were paying over £100 for shearlings -astronomical.”

But there are bullish factors, such as the plentiful grass supplies. “You have to stock it with something,” says Mr Ketley. And sheep could be a better bet than cattle.

There could also be fewer sheep on offer nationwide, reckons Mr Ketley. Many farmers have quit the sheep business, which could “leave a hole” in entries at some sales.

Chris Lloyd, of the National Sheep Association, is upbeat about prospects. The events which hit the prime lamb trade last year will not be repeated, he says.
He cites the introduction of the two-teeth SBO rule. “This meant that a lot of sheep were sold at a time when they wouldnt normally have been – a time when the market wasnt ready for them. Its difficult to bring the price back up once its gone down.

“People will be wiser this season and it will even out the flow of lambs.”
When it comes to buying breeders, remember quality pays, advises Mr Lloyd. And, as well as the traditional eye-appeal method, remember there is more information available about stock nowadays – like data from sire reference schemes.

  • For thius and other stories, see this weeks Farmers Weekly, 3-9 July, 1998

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