Ewe fairs were approached with an element of trepidation this season and no one was prepared to play a betting game on how they would go. Most people were in agreement that they could not be as good as year ago levels, given that those prices were some of the best seen.
Too much hypothetical muddy water had passed under the bridge in 2020 for that to happen, though in some regions it was the notable lack of muddy water that added either caution or optimism to this market, depending on what side of the fence you were on. By that I mean some thought the need to replace ewes and other livestock sold during the drought would help this market, but the water was muddied by covid-19 and its impact on international markets and subsequently farm gate prices.
So, it was almost with a sigh of relief that the ewe fair season got underway and farmers could start to set benchmarks on ewe prices, whether it was to sell at upcoming fairs or to gauge the value of those at home. To date, ewe fair action has been centred along the east coast of the North Island, as Stortford Lodge kicked off the fairs prior to Christmas, and Matawhero and Dannevirke got in on the action in the first week of sales for 2021. These areas of course were very dry and that had a mixed impact on numbers at these early fairs. Stortford Lodge volume grew to nearly 12,000 as farmers chose to offload early rather than hold off for the later fairs. That gave a false sense of supply and even though the next fair at Stortford Lodge will have over 13,000 that is a far cry from the 21,000 offered in 2020. Matawhero and Dannevirke numbers were more in line with expected outcomes as both fairs offered up only half the previous year’s tallies. Prices for most classes were well back on last year, but for the majority held resilient enough that they were better than any sales prior to 2018. One highlight to date has been the strength of the five-year market as it appears that buyer preference is for older, proven ewes to put more lambs on the ground. At Dannevirke, prices for most annual draft lines only trailed 2020 by $10-$20 per head and one consignment bettered the 2020 offering.
It is still only early days for these fairs with plenty more calendared in the next month and there is still more to this story to tell, but overall the fairs have got off to a better than expected start.