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Sheep trade: Factories pay the price for numbers

 

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Brian Farrell

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The question is will the numbers keep coming or are we reaching a tipping point in the availability of adequate numbers of sheep?

Speaking with a number of mart managers over the weekend, I was told that a tightening in supply could be inevitable.

Up in Leitrim Patsy Smith said that despite sales staying big - or possibly because of that - he sees numbers tightening.

Stephen Hannon of Ballymote in Sligo also thinks the numbers can't keep coming.

"Our numbers are up over 50pc since the start of the year compared to 12 months ago. Going on what we've seen, a lot of lambs have to be gone," he told me.

For the moment, though, the factories are getting what numbers they need, but they are being made to pay for them as prices continue to edge upwards.

This week it's the turn of Kepak Athleague to stoke the fire as they add 10c/kg to their quote for hoggets, bringing them to €5.35+15c/kg quality assured. While it's a tidy lift it still leaves their base price 10c/kg behind Dawn Ballyhaunis on €5.45/kg plus quality bonuses of 10c/kg, and 15c/kg behind Kildare Chilling.

Meanwhile, the largest sheep group in the country, ICM continue, for the third consecutive week, to not offer any official indication of where they are pitching their quotes for hoggets.

Prices on the ground appear to have edged up another 10-15c/kg, with Sean Mc Namara of ICSA informing me that numbers of hoggets are now changing hands at €5.70-5.75/kg.

On the cull ewe side it's as you were with all plants quoting a straight €2.90/kg and Kildare Chilling on €2.90+10c/kg QA.

IFA's Sean Dennehy informs me that all factories are now paying up to 23kg on weight and that factory agents are being told "not to let any lambs away".

You have to back four years to 2016 since we've seen the trade so buoyant. Back then official quotes this week for hogget ranged from €5.50-5.65/kg, with cull ewes being quoted at €2.90-3.00/kg. By March that year spring lamb were being quoted by the factories at €6.40/kg, with hoggets steady at €5.50/kg. Happy times.

However, the following year, saw hoggets at this time back to €4.60-4.65/kg. 2018 was a little better, at €4.90/kg, while this time last year factories were quoting €5.00/kg.

It's been a hard road for those who have stuck with it.

While I don't want to sound negative, one good year in every four doesn't instil confidence.

However, hope springs eternal that a more stable factory pricing strategy could yet be put in place. The fear is that any short-term gain from a quick fix in the form of subsidies for breeding would see factories eating up the benefit once those additional numbers came online.

The farm organisations need to think carefully in relation to what message they will lay before any new minister and his/her officials in relation to how the industry stabilises the historic Irish yo-yoing on sheep prices.

Especially now in advance of the detail in relation to where the UK may be in two years, re Brexit.

 

Marts

Dowra

"Numbers were bigger but trade was sharper," said Patsy Smith of Saturday's sale here. Factory hoggets sold from €108-131/hd, with forward stores making €85-106/hd; one exceptional lot saw €111/hd. Heavy cull ewes made €90-133/hd, with feeders averaging €60-90/hd.

On the breeding side, ewes with singles at foot sold to a top of €140/hd, while in-lamb ewes made €100-155/hd. Despite sales staying big - or possibly because of this - Patsy sees numbers tightening.

Ballymote

Stephen Hannon also thinks the numbers can't keep coming. "Our numbers are up over 50pc since the start of the year compared to 12 months ago." As to the trade, Stephen described it as "steady and levelling". Steady and levelling is not a bad place as 50kg+ hoggets sold here for up to €130/hd, with the better cull ewe making €100-135/hd. A good store trade saw anything of any quality starting at around the €85/hd mark and moving up.

Ennis

With factory prices continuing to push on, last week's trade here also continued very positively. While the top call was €136/hd, the stand out performance came in the form of thirteen 57kg hoggets that sold for €134/hd. Prices on the cull ewe side were well maintained, with averages €50-128/hd.

Carnew

A big entry of sheep (2,780) saw strong demand maintaining prices across the board for all types. Hoggets at 50+kg sold from €125-129/hd, with 45-49kg animals averaging €114-127/hd. 40-44kg animals sold from €102-118/hd, with stores making €78-109/hd. Heavy cull ewes made €125-143/hd, with lighter lots making €70-110/hd.

On the breeding side, in-lamb ewes made €140-205/hd, while those with lambs at foot made from €145-235/hd.

Baltinglass

Numbers here continued to improve last week with trade reported as being "slightly improved" for both butcher and factory lamb. Sample prices among the hoggets included a batch of twenty-four at 47kg that sold for €117/hd; six at 40kg made €108/hd, with a further six at 45kg making €115/hd.

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