Trade Talk with Alastair Sneddon, Bagshaws, Bakewell Agricultural Business Centre

30th October 2018

In the early part of this year sheep producers and auctioneers were in danger of living up to Harold Macmillan’s famous words, “… most of our people have never had it so good,” with Hoggs averaging 300p/kg, and cull ewes averaging £100 per head.

Things have changed somewhat since then, and several factors have conspired to produce a “perfect storm” for the sheep industry.

The exceptionally hard winter affected sheep farmers before, during and after lambing time, contributing to a bad start for the lamb crop.

As winter turned to summer with not much in between we rapidly went from Tundra to Desert with a shortage of keep and little chance of conserving fodder.

Despite nothing short of a bonanza for many store lamb finishers last season, they have approached this year’s enterprise with caution.

Many were late starting their shopping with a shortage of keep being the main issue.

Root crops were behind schedule and dairy farmers, who make available much of the grassland to store lamb finishers, were unable to entertain ‘paying guests’.

Thankfully the rains have come, as has the grass.  At our recent store lamb sale there were 27 individual purchasers and store lambs sold to £76 to average £58.45, some £3 per head up on the equivalent sale last year.

At the breeding sheep sales we have noticed those with top quality sheep have still achieved decent results, it is the second and third raters that have been hard work.

There has also been a swing away from the Mule in favour of the Texel cross, in many cases Texel cross Mules.  Texel x averages for both ewe lambs and shearlings are virtually unchanged on the year, but Mules are down around £15 for shearlings and around £20 for ewe lambs.

One question that emerges is why were more ewe hoggs not sold in the heady heights of the spring?  The answer perhaps is this, there seem to be more sheep farmers who want to engage in ‘gimmering’, the art of turning the ewe lamb into a shearling, than there are those who want to lamb sheep.

If more ewe hoggs had been sold in the spring, what would have eaten the grass for the rest of the season.  Little were we to know that there was not going to be any.