Wednesday 20 September, 2023

View from the rostrum: Increased values for all classes

Chris Armstrong gives a performance round-up.

clock • 4 min read
View from the rostrum: Increased values for all classes

Chris Armstrong gives a performance round-up.

As livestock auctioneers up and down the country find themselves in the thick of the autumn sales season, we at Hexham and Northern Marts are enjoying a buoyant ‘back end', having handled more than 15,000 breeding sheep over the last fortnight.

We are looking forward to an October calendar of no less than six sales of store cattle and suckled calves, which will see more than 5,000 head traded through the ring here on Tyne Green and several prize show line-ups which would rival any market in the country.

The greatly increased values for all classes we witnessed in spring largely continued throughout summer, with the mainstay at Hexham - our store cattle ring - the scene of some fantastic trading through the months of June, July and August on the back of great demand for the finished product.

Many vendors during these summer months saw lifts of more than £100/head on the year, although as the season wore on and the new levels for consumable feeds, fodder and bedding emerged, it would appear that none of us are any wealthier as a result, simply handling larger sums of income and expenditure.

In my 23 years with the company I have seen the full spectrum of highs and lows in our prime sheep rings, however I am delighted that my own charge (and one time that of my grandfather many years ago), the seasonal market at Scots Gap, has benefited greatly by the upturn in the finished lamb trade.

Traditionally a centre for heavyweight lambs in the 50kg-plus bracket, the Suffolk cross Half-bred types of the 1970s have long since disappeared and are now replaced with either a Texel cross Suffolk or Suffolk cross Texel which stems from the cornerstone of a North of England Mule. But these hybrid genetics still facilitate a liveweight carcase ideal for the resurgent butcher trade, with the sale last week averaging a mighty 48.2kg.

For many of the preceding years, our dedicated consignors to ‘The Gap' have held on to their lambs for the weight to rise as the price often fell and such a retention policy often looked folly when compared with the p/kg of lighter lambs, but not this year.

Yet still the very best of these heavy lambs are realising £125-£135m and, thanks to our steadfast weekly buyers and wholesale customers, these levels show little signs of easing as the season wears on.

In direct correlation we have seen the values of breeding sheep shift to new highs at Hexham, with centre records falling on a weekly basis.

The first of these was at the opening sale of ewe lambs, when Blackface bred North of England Mule ewe lambs traded to a top of £340 and an average of £149.06 (+£21.95).

The ‘Blackie' lambs which will go on to breed the same Mules also smashed the previous record to top at £170/head for the renowned upland breed which averaged £122.27 (+£14.69). The equally popular and more prevalent Swaledale bred North of England Mule saw our traditional ‘Tow Law' sale vendors delighted, with many exclaiming ‘running' lambs lifting as much as £30/head on the year, a new sale record of £450 for the champion pen and an average increased to £129.69 (+£23.22).

Shop window

A welcomed return to the much cherished ‘shop window' ram sales at both Kelso and Builth Wells during September have added to the galvanisation of the UK sheep industry this year and stand as testament to the determination and fortitude of not only the buyers and sellers at these events, but also the organising committees which have bounced back after a fallow year in 2020, so hats off to them all.

I am pleased to report improved sale averages for my own rings of Texel rams in both Scotland and Wales and a new centre record for a Texel shearling ram of £7,500 at our opening sale at Hexham last week.

There was an average close to £800 for more than 400 rams sold which would also suggest at least locally we are guaranteed a crop of lambs next spring.

All such sales surely prove reward is indeed attainable for those who pursue traditional sheep farming practices which seem to be overlooked by landowners and agents which now appear to favour planting trees across great tracts of land in a feeble attempt to sequester carbon and pander to the whims of Whitehall.

Modern thinkers

All the while these modern thinkers seem to ignore what little effect planting our postage stamp of an island will have on a global platform when vast areas are still being felled on the other side of the world, ironically the side which those in the halls of power now seem to think can feed our nation in a week when haulage issues and fuel and food shortages are headline news. The answer has to be: stay local, shop local and Buy British.

Chris Armstrong

Chris Armstrong is auctioneer at Hexham and Northern Marts. Call 07808 721 957, or email [email protected]