‘View from the Rostrum’ from Mark Richardson, Auctioneer and Livestock Manager at Harrison & Hetherington’s Kirkby Stephen Mart:
“As I am writing this on a dry and sunny April evening, we can be thankful for the acts of nature through the record mild winter and early spring conditions, which have given our farming community a little bit of relief amidst the current volatile and uncertain environment we are all having to deal with.
“In result to this, both breeders and finishers have been able to finish their prime lambs/hoggs coming to the market in 2018/19 with least feed cost for some time as many are finishing from grass, offsetting the deficit slightly from last year’s extreme returns.
“Throughout the season, trade could be described as constant, with good returns being delivered at the start of the lamb season and remaining fairly level, and not hitting the bottom lows throughout the glut period that have been experienced in the past.
“Looking from January onwards, at a time when producers are looking for signs of a lift in trade, the pattern of a consistent trade prevailed and even through all the reports of how many less lambs were supposedly on the ground due to the harsh conditions last spring, this hasn’t reflected on returns as sluggish demand has offset these shortfalls.
“With Easter falling late this year, trade has just started to pick up over the last couple of weeks and an increase in numbers was experienced this week in particular, with 5661 prime sheep consisting of 4625 prime hoggs and 1036 cast sheep going through our weekly prime sheep ring at Kirkby Stephen, on Tuesday 2nd April.”
“This has partly been due to some of the larger finishers holding back for signs of a lift in trade and has resulted in an influx of heavier hoggs being on the market, with this being the case in our ring on Tuesday as out of the 4625 prime hoggs forward, 2322 hoggs fell in and above the heavy classification. Never the less, strong demand was witnessed for all classes and weights, with 1196 medium weights levelling at 220.8p/k up 20p/kg on the week and heavy hoggs also seeing a 13p/kg rise.
“Here at Kirkby Stephen on our weekly evening sale we have seen constant entries of between 3000 and 6000 prime sheep with between 2500-4000 prime hoggs and 1000-2500 ewes.
“12-14 buyers in attendance on a weekly basis supplying between 25 and 30 different outlets. With many jobs for all classes of prime lambs and hoggs from 30 to 70 kilos and from commercial and hill bred hoggs up to the best quality continental cross types. These smart bred types demand great premiums here at Kirkby Stephen on a weekly basis. With many outlets looking for these types, and they regularly achieve well over £2.50 to £3 p/kg. With a recent week over 500 Beltex cross hoggs been forward selling to average 252p/kg. Topping at £130.80 and 333.3p/kg. A ring full of 64 Beltex cross hoggs weighing 40kg sold to make £110.
“We also have regular demand for cast sheep of all classes with this section topping recently at £150 for a Texel ewe with upwards of 10 ewe buyers in attendance on a weekly basis.
“The spring lambs season gains most momentum from the May prize show and sale on Tuesday 7th. With plenty of buyers requiring large quantities of new season lamb from here onwards on a weekly basis.
“Looking forward to the next 10 days, we should continue to see demand remaining strong in the run up to the Easter trade, and with Ramadan expected to begin the first week in May this year, this should also help prime sheep trade to remain firm in the shorter term.
“The reports of spring lambs thriving well due to good spring conditions will undoubtedly result in the window between change over from prime hoggs to new season lamb being less noticeable, as spring lambs will be on the market earlier this year. For hogg finishers, this could be something to take into account when coming to finish marketing their hoggs.
“Looking further ahead, dare I mention the word “Brexit”? I’m sure everyone is currently in dismay over the whole situation and how anyone, and in particular farmers and all subsidiary businesses, can even start to plan or prepare for what currently, and quite frankly, seems like the compete unknown.
“Prime cattle returns have also been put under extreme downward pressure, with finishers feeling the weight and control ability of the large-scale processors within this sector. Albeit this store cattle sales, through live rings, have experienced consistently buoyant trades, with our February store cattle sale here at Kirkby Stephen seeing a steer average of £1005.85 and heifer average of £932.78 for predominantly 8-10-month-old cattle. With a consignment of 45, 8-12 month old Limousin cross British Blues steers and heifers selling on this day to average £1020.
“Also the annual Kirkby Classic Sale witnessed a entry of 600 store cattle to include a record entry with over 50 show potential cattle been on offer which attracted buyers from many parts of the country. Topping this sale at £3400 was a 10 month old Limousin cross heifer. With the overall champion a British Blue cross heifer been sold for £3200. Plenty of buyers from a wide area regularly attend our store cattle sale here at Kirkby Stephen with high demand for smart continental cross cattle, with these types regularly selling between £1050-£1150 at 8-10 month old and in excess of this for the best.
“Some of this trade has been put down to the slowing decline in store cattle numbers. Cast cow trades have seen a dramatic lift over the last few weeks due to a decline in numbers on the market, and hopefully this is the start of a catalyst for the prime beef trade to rise again, due to decline in availability and volumes of beef from overseas coming onto the market.
“Looking forward to the next couple of month we have our annual Prize May Day show and sale held on Monday 6th, which has seen upwards of 1200 store cattle in recent years. With some fantastic quality consignments on offer at this sale, and with a more positive prime beef outlook, combined with spring/summer fast approaching we are predicting that good store cattle returns will be achieved at this sale with upwards of 50-60 buyers regularly attending from many different parts of the country.
“Whatever the outcome of Brexit and the uncertainty of this, combined with questions as to future single farm payment availability and methods, now has never been more important for livestock farmers to harness and make most use of their chance to keep control over the way in which they market their stock, by using competitive, open and transparent price setting live sale rings”, concluded Mark.