Prices paid at early season breeding ewe fairs reveal farmers still have confidence in the sheep industry despite sheepmeat prices being at their lowest level in seven years.
Top Romney 2-tooths made $164-$181 at Stortford Lodge this week. Capital 4-tooth and 6-tooth Romneys sold for $145-$161 and 5-tooths averaged $122.
Similar values were achieved at the Matawhero Ewe Fair.
AgriHQ Livestock Eye senior analyst Suz Bremner said 2-tooth prices were $30 behind last year and 5-year ewes $40 behind.
Hawke’s Bay PGG Wrightson area livestock manager Neil Common said prices achieved were $10-$20/hd higher than expected.
Bremner said the prices were fair, reflecting the quality and condition of the animals bought, the limited number of ewes for sale, feed conditions and current meat schedules.
“Maybe it reflects that supply and demand is balanced,” she said.
“The key result is that both buyers and sellers are happy.”
The prices paid also reflect confidence in the sheep industry.
“I feel farmers are showing confidence in sheep, maybe not for this year but hopefully next year.”
Bremner said farmers have fewer options to buy replacement ewes. In 2014 the Stortford fair attracted 33,000 ewes with the sale held over two days. This year it attracted just 12,000.
Fairs continue at Dannevirke and Masterton in the second week of the year, at Ongarue in Ruapehu on Tuesday January 16 and in the South Island later in the month.
Locals said the Ongarue sale, held by neighbouring farmers, has been running for over 100 years but is struggling to attract stock due to a loss of sheep as farmland is converted to forestry.
AgriHQ senior analyst Mel Croad said with only a few larger fairs held so far, 2-tooth prices are averaging $173/hd.
AgriHQ data shows the average North Island 2-tooth ewe price at fairs last January was $204/hd and $242/hd in 2022, which reflected higher sheepmeat prices.
She said the greater competition for 2-tooths reflects expectations of a lower buy-in price compared to the past six years, along with feed levels and ewe condition.
“It’s positive because equally it could have easily gone the other way, given low slaughter returns since late 2023 for lamb and mutton, higher interest rates and on-farm costs.”
Low prices for cull ewes in November did not inspire confidence for breeding ewe values.
Croad said after these initial sales the current margin to replace cull ewes offloaded in November is about $90/hd compared to $50-$55/hd in 2022 and 2023.
“On this basis its possible 2-tooth prices will start to level out as more come on stream.”
Meanwhile, before Christmas Silver Fern Farms released new forecast prime stock prices through to the start of March that show a further softening for sheepmeat as prime stock flows increase.
Lamb is forecast at $6.10-$5.70/kg, mutton $2.40-$2.10/kg, prime beef $5.60-$5/kg, bull $5.50-$5.10/kg, cow $3.90-$3.50/kg and venison $8.75-$8.70/kg.
At its supplier meetings in November, forecast prices for lamb through until January were $5.80-$6.60/kg.
Last month Alliance released its latest forecasts for lamb, minus programme premiums, of $5.70-$6.20/kg and, for mutton, $2-$2.30/kg.