Sales slow as sheep fairs bite the dust

31 August 2001

Sales slow as sheep fairs bite the dust

By James Garner

EVERY summer, sheep fairs in the midlands and East Anglia shift about 60,000-70,000 ewes to lowland flocks.

These fairs are the last link in the chain for the movement of breeding ewes from upland flocks to lowland prime lamb flocks.

Gimmer lambs are often bought by farmers to over-winter before selling them on the following summer as shearlings and replacements for lowland flocks.

Of the fairs, Bicester is probably the biggest and one of the earliest each year, taking place on the first Friday in August.

This year, Bicesters time has been and gone, and has been missed, not least by the auctioneers at Northampton market that run the sale.

Brian Pile has been selling sheep at the sale for 30 years and reckons that in a normal year, he would sell 20,000 thieves (shearling ewes), 10,000 breeding ewes and 10,000 store lambs.

This year, selling sheep has involved many phone calls and farm visits, he says.

"We have sold several ewes in big groups of 100-plus to buyers we have dealt with in the past." Normally, Bicester would attract buyers from Wales, the south-west and the south. These buyers tend to buy large groups of ewes for other sheep farmers in their region.

"Ive sold several 1000 ewes through private sale, but by this time of year I would normally have sold 50,000."

Bicester and other local fairs is also where local farmers buy 50 or 100 ewes to replace culls. Such buyers dont seem to have dipped into the market yet, says Mr Pile.

For the Suffolk cross Mule ewe, time is running short. Generally, these are tupped in early September. These are trading for £40-£50/head this year, he says.

While North of England Mule ewe buyers have a bit longer, probably about five weeks to buy, with most being tupped in early October. Mule thieves are trading about the same mark, although better sorts are making £45-£55. Trying to sell above this level is hard work.

"Theres still a lot of ewes in the wrong place. Movements are happening, but it is very time consuming. You might visit five or 10 farms and still not have sold any stock," he says. &#42


&#8226 Sheep fairs badly missed.

&#8226 Trading going ahead.

&#8226 Replacements not yet bought.

&#8226 Prices flat.

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