21 April 1995

Rise for cull ewe prices after a fall

By Tim Relf

CULL ewe prices, which tumbled following the end of the first retention period for claiming sheep annual premium, are now rising again.

The price dip was triggered, as expected, by a huge increase in marketings after Mar 25. Meat and Livestock Commission estimates put the rise in the week ending Mar 29 at 35%.

Experiences at Oswestry have been typical. There, numbers forward increased 40% after the retention period. At Welshpool, the figure was put nearer 50%. "Not surprisingly," says auctioneer Ryan Stockbridge, "this glut led to a fall off in trade of about £6 or £7/head."

In year-on-year terms, prices have remained similar to 12 months ago. In the week ending Apr 12, the average cull ewe price was £28.30; last year it was £29.60.

And this despite the fact that ewe cullings, which rose sharply during 1994, also increased during the first quarter of this year. The higher cullings were prompted partly by more retentions of ewe lambs for premium purposes. The MAFF December survey showed a 4% (99,000 head) increase in the number retained, but not put to the ram.

The MLC suggests that reduced clean sheep slaughterings (10% down on last year), and higher ewe carcass exports, have helped support prices.

At Longtown, over 3300 culls were forward in the first sale after the close of the retention period. By the following week, only 2200 head were to be seen. "And even that was 600 more than at the same time last year," says auctioneer Neil McCleary.

Export-type ewes are currently making £30 to £35 at Longtown; heavy ewes, meanwhile, are changing hands at £38 to £40.

Auctioneers now point to a rising demand as consumption, linked with the religious festival of Ramadan, grows. Marketings are also expected to stabilise.

"Prices should go £2 or £3 dearer," says Mr McCleary. And similarly at Oswestry, Mr Stockbridge expects trade to quicken.

At Edinburgh, where prices fell back £5/head, the view is that "the only ewes sold between now and the end of May will be those over and above the number entitled for premium". There, the feeling is that the top prices of £45 to £50 seen recently might creep above the £50 mark.

But with late-May heralding the end of the next retention period, higher marketings could then once again depress trade.

"Prices could dip by £5/head again then," comments Mr Stockbridge. "Although after that, we will probably see a steady price for the rest of the summer."