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Farmers braced for hard times as factories play the numbers game

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Up and down: Ewe numbers are increasing nationwide, which could spell bad news for sheepmeat prices. Picture: Patrick Browne

Up and down: Ewe numbers are increasing nationwide, which could spell bad news for sheepmeat prices. Picture: Patrick Browne

Up and down: Ewe numbers are increasing nationwide, which could spell bad news for sheepmeat prices. Picture: Patrick Browne

'Factories," a sheep man from the east of the country declared on Saturday evening, "are buying sheep and time.

"Numbers are tight, but that will change over the next few weeks.

"They are tinkering around with the price. They pulled it back two weeks ago and they'll probably tinker with it a bit in the next two. They have to plan to cater for the end of Ramadan."

The Muslim period of fasting ends on Saturday, May 23, an occasion marked by the Eid al-Fitr festival

"Right now they have probably just enough to keep their customers satisfied with Ramadan in mind so they can't move as strongly as they might like," the farmer continued.

"But they know the numbers will come, and when Ramadan is over they'll balance their books"

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Is this man right? Are factories tricking around with the price, trying to get sheep farmers tuned in to lower expectations?

The reference to 'balancing their books' implies that recent good prices paid by the processors were out of step with market returns.

This thought had me recalling a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a senior procurement officer; at the time quotes for hogget were at €6.00-6.20/kg, with springs around €6.60/kg.

He told me that his accounting department and sales teams had been on to him, saying he'd better stop "spilling red ink".

This week's quotes are a mixed bag for sheep farmers.

For the third consecutive week, both Kepak Athleague and Dawn Ballyhaunis were unable to offer quotes.

And there's bad news as the two ICM plants reduce their offering for spring lamb and cull ewes by 10c/kg, to €5.90+10c/kg quality assurance and €2.40/kg, respectively.

Kildare Chilling, however, leave their quotes for springs and culls unchanged at €6.10+10c/kg QA and €2.70+10c/kg QA, although they do ease hoggets by 10c/kg to €5.40+10c/kg QA.#

The ICM plants drop hoggets by 20c/kg.

Sean McNamara of the ICSA echoed the sentiments of the farmer I spoke to, saying: "When the numbers start to come factories will play with the numbers and prices."

Bigger problem

But he also pointed to a potentially bigger long-term problem.

"If the store men come out in July and buy ewe lambs to fatten, where will we get extra breeding stock?"

Sean Dennehy of the IFA appeared to offer some good news on that front, however. Quoting from the 2019 National Sheep Census published by the Department of Agriculture, he said it was positive to see ewe numbers increasing.

"Ewe numbers increased by 11,000 or 0.4pc to 2.57 million breeding ewes over 12 months of age," he said.

The Department figures go on to show overall sheep numbers were up 2pc (76,413) on December 31 to 3,809,368.

For those farmers dedicated to the business, perhaps a fall in numbers might have been more welcome.


Marts

New Ross

Jim Bushe reports that the mart trade is in very good order despite the recent price pulls at the factories.

Sample prices for spring lambs last week included 52kgs at €133/hd, 50kgs at €130/hd, and 46kgs at €126.50/hd and 44kgs at €124/hd.

"In general spring lambs sold from €80-85/hd with the weight," Jim said.

Prices on the cull ewe side started around the €90/hd mark but topped out for the heavier well-fleshed lots at €188/hd.

Delvin

This was a smaller sale, with Thomas Potterton observing that "lambs are slow coming".

Prices for spring lambs ranged from €127-133/hd, with that top price going to a batch of eight ewes weighing 42.5kg/hd.

Cull ewes saw strong demand, with prices operating from €115-123/hd.

On the breeding side ewes with single lambs at foot sold to €165/hd, while on the doubles side two ewes with three lambs at foot made €210/hd.

Enniscorthy

Here also numbers were smaller, with Kevin Murphy reporting cull ewes as being easier by around €5/hd, with batches around the 60kg mark making €80-90/hd.

Best price of the day saw 95kgs bringing €132.50.

Spring lambs sold from €115-130/hd, with 57kg hoggets making up to €128/hd.

Ballymote

Stephen Hannon reckoned prices at his live weigh and sale were up by around 20c/kg, meaning 35-40kg lambs were better by between €7-8/hd.

All of which helped the best of the spring lambs make up to €131/hd. Cull ewes sold from €90-125/hd.

"Lambs hardened last week. This week may be a different question," Stephen said.

Manorhamilton

Ivan Moffitt believes that the majority of hoggets are now gone in his country.

"There appears to be very little about. Farmers got a great chance to move them," he said.

What is about in growing in numbers are ewes with lambs at foot and spring lambs.

Those increased numbers helped ease springs back around €5/hd, resulting in 40-44kgs selling from €120-125/hd.

Ewes with doubles at foot sold from €210-240/hd, while better demand for culls ewes saw lighter types generally selling in a range of €60-85/hd.

Standout prices €240/hd Was paid for ewes with twin lambs at foot at Manohamilton

€133/hd Was paid for 52kg spring lambs at New Ross

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