Sheep rise against trend
BREEDING sheep numbers rose in 1997, so latest census data reveals. MAFF figures for December put the year-on-year growth at about 4% in England and Northern Ireland, with a 1.6% rise in Scotland.
"Unexpected and running contrary to the long-term trend," says the Meat and Livestock Commission. It attributes the rise to depressed finished values late last year prompting farmers to keep, rather than slaughter, lambs.
The expansion has prompted some commentators, meanwhile, to suggest that prices could fall at this summers big auctions.
Brian Clothier, who farms on the Mendip Hills, reckons values of both breeders and stores will be under pressure.
A lot of people "got their fingers burnt" with stores last season, he says. If prime lambs are only likely to make about £30, then you dont want to pay any more than £15 or £20 apiece for stores. That way, there would still be a margin after paying for labour, keep, commission, haulage and wormer. "Paying £40 again, as a lot of people did last year, would be crazy."
Much now depends on what happens to finished sheep values and sterling, he says. *