In many ways the spring of 2018 was a perfect storm, starting with a strong fat lamb trade and many farmers sending ewe lambs destined for the autumn breeding ewe sales away to kill in the spring. Many assumed that this would lead to a good trade for breeding ewes in the autumn, particularly with the national flock being down due to losses as a result of the “beast from the east”.
That said the high temperatures and lack of moisture for an 8-10 week spell from mid-May onwards has had a serious impact on livestock producers. Grass yields from the first cut of silage have almost been half that of the 2017 crop and the continued lack of rain has meant farmers have already started to dip in to this years forage stores, having used up any forage roll over from the winter just gone.
Many sheep farmers have had to resort to weaning lambs earlier than normal and either fatten on hard feed, kill lighter or sell as stores in order to ensure sufficient grazing for their breeding ewes. Consequently, more lambs than usual for the time of year have been coming forward in to the fat trade.
Initial expectations were strong for this autumn’s breeding ewe sales, though this has somewhat been deflected when considering the impact this has had on sheep farmers in the region and the result has been a drop in the early breeding ewe trade.
It is understood that whilst store lambs appear at present to be a similar to last year, the shearling ewe trade is a good £10 per head down on the previous year.
It would be natural to expect the trade to lift slightly now that there has been some rain and the grass has just started to grow again, though it will take some time for the land to recover. However, there doesn’t quite appear to be the usual optimism in the sector at the moment, particularly with BREXIT looming, the poorer than average lambing of 2018 and the lack of forage around; all suggesting a not so perfect storm after all!