26 December 1997


SHEEP farmers are in for a tough time as the new year opens.

As 1997 drew to a close values were below 100p/kg lw and falling – and this at a time when they traditionally rise.

Tighter Specified Risk Material control measures for lambs over 12-months old come into effect from Jan 1, following suggestions of a link between BSE and sheep. With dentition to be the means of ageing stock, those sold with erupted incisors could be discounted because of the additional costs involved, says the Meat and Livestock Commission.

More downward pressure on prices will come in the new year as the backlog of animals kept by farmers hoping for price improvements, hits the market.

Some of these animals were bought – earlier in this grass-rich season – as £40-plus stores. But the advice from the MLC is simple: Sell them as soon as they are fit and ready – delaying could mean bigger losses.

Over the coming three months, 600,000 more hoggets could be marketed than in the corresponding period of 1997. Thats nearly a 20% increase. And some of them will be over-heavy and over-fat.

Stock cleanliness will be another big issue, particularly on traditional finishing systems such as roots. But its one well worth concentrating on, says the MLC, with dirty sheep likely to be discounted or unsaleable.

The year overall is likely to see prices below those of 1997 which, in turn, was a disappointing one for farmers compared with 1996. This is likely to be reflected in the traditional spring peak in trade, which could struggle to reach 1995s 120p/kg.

On the supply side, clean sheep slaughterings are expected to hit 16.35m in the coming 12 months, an increase of 7%. This reflects a small expansion of the breeding flock, a fall in live lamb exports and slightly reduced ewe lamb retentions.

Ewe and ram slaughterings, however, will fall another 4%, after a 20% drop in 1997.

Sheepmeat consumption, meanwhile, is expected to remain steady, after its 5% drop in 1997. But with this sector recently in the headlines over a possible BSE link, and Brussels angling towards the removal of spinal columns from older animals, sheep farmers will be entering the new year in a justifiably nervous mood.n

See more