DESPITE the average price for both ewe and wether lambs falling short of last year’s record-breaking levels, most producers at the Lairg sale on Tuesday were cautiously content.
United Auctions Ltd had 16,213 lambs on offer, an increase of 2534 on 2011, partly due to most consignors claiming they had more twins than normal, and, hopefully, also due to a slight recovery in sheep numbers.
In the weeks leading up to the sale period, consignors would have been concerned with television images showing many areas in the south suffering from inclement weather, and severe flooding of farmland, making the harvesting of winter-keep difficult.
These fears, and the lack of bloom on the lambs due to the shortage of sun this year, would have contributed to a decrease in the average prices over last year.
Average price for ewe lambs was £69.12, down £2.78, and for wether lambs £57.10, down £1.65 per head.
Top overall price was £175 per head for a pen of 20 from Joyce Campbell, Armadale, sold to Donald Macdonald, Taldale, Forss. This was a record for the centre, beating the previous best of £132 per head paid last year by the same buyer.
Leading prices per head for wether lambs were: £69 A Mackay, Balkeith, Tain, for a pen of 82; £67.50 Achentoul shepherd’s pack, for a pen of 20; £66 A l & I K Mackenzie, The Willows, for a pen of 10; £64 D Campbell, Achlich, Lairg for a pen of 52; £63 Suisgill Estate for a pen of 200.
In the ewe lamb trade, Alan Mackay, Balkeith took the top honours with £142, £132 and £130 per head, for pens of 32, 40 and 30, repectively.
Ian Miller of Messrs Miller, Buckies Farm, Thurso, bought Mr Mackay’s second top draw. "We have bought Balkeith ewe lambs over a number of years and found them to be superb bloodstock," said Ian. "We cross them with the border Leicester and we are delighted with the result."
Donald Campbell, Achlich, keeps 240 ewes on his crofts in the Gruids area. He received £64 for his top wether lambs. "I am happy with my prices today which I credit to the application and management I have adopted over years," he said.
His near neighbour, retired coal-merchant Stuart Mackay, Carnich, keeps 150 ewes on his croft. Some of them are crossed with a texel tup, which paid when he received £85 and £62 per head for his ewe and wether lambs, respectively. "I am down on my wether lambs from last year but up on my ewe lambs so, overall I am relatively happy."
Cathel Morrison, Kinlochbervie, also expressed satisfaction with his trade, especially with the smaller classes. Cathel, who is also a fish buyer, keeps just under 200 ewes. "I got £54.50 per head for my top wether lambs. On the day, that was a good trade," he said.
Largest consignor was Achentoul Farms Ltd with 1000 lambs. Their 100 top ewe lambs, noted for their size and quality, made £70 per head, a drop of £30 on last year. Sir John Nutting QC, Achentoul, nevertheless remained very philosophical. "Thanks to the expertise of Stewart Henderson and Tommy Cowie, Achentoul enjoyed tremendous trade this past three or four years so a slight downturn like today must be taken on the chin," he said.
At the end of the sale, David Legatt, UA’s executive chairman, expressed general satisfaction with the day’s trading, given the uncertain background. "Clearly problems with winter keep was a factor as one or two buyers were not present, and others cautious about the numbers they bought. However, it was very heartening to see a number of new buyers today, particularly from Wales and the Borders. Lairg stock, particularly those who are accredited, are much sought after," said Mr Leggatt.
It is clear that despite its downturn in numbers from the halcyon days of 30,000-plus lambs, Lairg still has spectator appeal. From the start of the sale at ten o’clock until it ended some seven hours later, the ring was thronged with people, with many others preferring to remain outside enjoying the balmy temperature that was to give way to a thunder and lightning storm which lasted for less than an hour in mid-afternoon.
The previous day, those from north Sutherland who would have previously sold at Bettyhill and Forsinard, made their way to Aberdeen and Northern Mart’s centre at Quoybrae, Caithness.
Given that this sale also included park lambs from Caithness consignors, average prices for the sale, which was slightly up on last year, might not reflect the price average for north Sutherland lambs.
However, suffice to say, prices were on a par with both Dingwall and Lairg, for similar quality.
Top price for cheviot ewe lambs was £66 for a pen of eight from Mrs Valerie Jappy, Armadale, followed by £64 for a pen of 30 from Donald Mackay, Trantlebeg, Halladale, and £59 for a pen of 12 from John Mackay, 72 Strathy West.
Top price for cheviot wether lambs was £60 for a pen of 48 from Derek Mackay, Trantlemore, Halladale, followed by £59 for a pen of 12 from Mrs V Jappy, Armadale, and £58.50 for a pen of four from J Mackay, 72 Strathy West.Other leading prices from the area were: £72 and £67 for pens of 19 and 165 Suffolk crosses, respectively from W & J Findlay, Kirkton, Melvich; £62.50 for a pen of 12 Texel crosses from James Mackenzie, 8 Achina, Bettyhill.
It is worth considering the value to Sutherland of the three lamb sales this past week. An estimated £1,250,000 will have found its way into the farming economy. The saying, "money is made round to go round" is certainly true so far as farmers and crofters are concerned.
They provide a massive umbrella which help many other industries to operate. There are vets, animal feed and implement merchants, hauliers, fencers, general contractors and suppliers and a host of others who rely in whole or in part on this farm gate income.