Ewe sales falter in hot, dry conditions

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Sale time . . . Hazlett Ltd livestock general manager Ed Marfell accepts a bid on the first day of the Hawarden Ewe Fair. PHOTO: DAVID HILL

By DAVID HILL

The sheep industry has gone from a pre-Christmas high to a summer of uncertainty.

Peter Walsh & Associates auctioneer Allister Orchard says buyers were “very selective” on day two of the Hawarden Ewe Fair in hot, dry and dusty conditions last Friday.

“It was hot and dry the first day, but on Friday it was that dusty you were struggling to keep the crowd in front of you.

“We couldn’t see them for the dust.

“But, we have to remember we have come off record high prices in the spring.

“There has been quite an adjustment this side of Christmas,” he says.

“The values are still pretty good, but everybody wants more.”

Around one-third of the sheep returned home, including to Nelson and Kaikoura.

“I think all the firms had sheep go home, which is very unusual for a ewe fair.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen that many return home.”

Benmore Station of Marlborough had a good day, selling a line of two-tooth ewes for the day’s top price of $280.

But others were not so lucky, with few sales passing $200 and “some very good ewes going for $180 to $200”, he says. Lighter condition ewes sold for $150 to $170.

It was a similar story during day one of the Temuka Ewe Fair last week.

And it does not get any easier, with 18,000 ewes registered for the Sheffield Ewe Fair on Friday, February 14.

The Sheffield sale has been split over two saleyards, with two-tooth ewes and ewe lambs on sale at Coalgate at 10am, followed by the older sheep at Sheffield from 12pm.

Mr Orchard is already aware of one unsuccessful vendor who is looking to have another go at the Sheffield Ewe Fair, but he wonders if others may choose to withdraw their ewes rather than risk the disappointment of a non-sale.

But it is not all doom and gloom, as North Canterbury has come through dry summers before, he says.

“It’s still a fantastic opportunity to purchase some good quality, young ewes for a good price.

“The market hasn’t completely crashed. We may just need to re-adjust our value $170 to $200 is still OK money.”

A late harvest, which means arable farmers are not able to buy store lambs in the usual numbers, and the fallout from the novel coronavirus in China is all hitting at the same time, creating uncertainty for farmers.

“The coronavirus is having an impact, with the ports not operating, but when the Chinese come back into the market they will want our product.”