Lairg lamb sale points to Highland sheep optimism

The first indications that the new CAP rules will have a positive impact in Scotland’s extensive hill areas were in evidence at the landmark sale of North Country Cheviot lambs at Lairg in Sutherland.

From 2015, farmers in the Scottish government’s region three payment band – which covers 2.1 million of the country’s most extensive hectares – will be paid €10/ha plus €100 of coupled payment for each ewe hogg.

See also: Scottish government releases CAP reform detail

And with five months still to go before the CAP is implemented, most Highland estate owners, farmers and crofters said they would see substantial increases in subsidy payments and described the deal as a “reward” for sticking with sheep during some unprofitable years.

In Lairg’s heyday 20 years ago, 35,000 lambs were sold in a single day, making it the biggest one-day sheep sale in Europe. But as large estates got rid of sheep and became inactive “slipper” farmers, numbers dwindled and fewer than 15,000 lambs were sold this year.

The National Sheep Association’s Scottish development officer, George Milne said the new CAP rules should stabilise the decline.

“Some landowners might put sheep back on but of course they’d have to find shepherds and heft the sheep back on to unfenced hills,” he said.

Sir John Nutting, who sold 1,000 lambs from his Auchentoul estate, was pleased with prices, which were considerably up on the year.

“Many of these Sutherland hills which used to carry sheep have become bald of stock in the past 10-12 years,” he said.

“But we’ve kept faith with sheep over a significant period of time, including some lean years. I hope the new payments will attract some of the other estates back but restocking requires significant capital investment so it’s a difficult economic equation.”

United Auctions chairman David Leggat said it looked as though the new CAP was already having an impact on trade.

“People are anticipating that it’s going to support livestock activity and they’re grasping that now. And that’s why ewe lamb trade is as buoyant as it is,” he said. “There are buyers from the South and Wales and a lot of the ewe lambs are staying in Scotland. People are anticipating more support, which is good.”

The 5,187 ewe lambs sold averaged £65.50 a head, a rise of £7.54 on the year and the 9,449 wether lambs averaged £55.41 a head, up £2.17 on 2013.

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