As a rugby-loving nation any opportunity to use the age-old analogy about a game of two halves is always jumped on and it is perfect when reflecting on the results of the first ewe fairs of 2020. It does mean, though, the fairs have not always posted results that meet the high expectations many have for them, myself included. High levels were reached but perhaps not as consistently as many had hoped.
The common theme across all the North Island fairs has been the best lines were chased hard for replacements, typically by returning buyers, and either met or exceeded last year’s levels but from there very selective bidding or a lack thereof meant sellers had to meet the market at levels below their expectations. That’s not to say the fairs were a disaster, though, as ewes continued to achieve prices rarely seen in New Zealand’s long agricultural history. The best of the two-tooth ewes sold into the $200s and some even pushed into the $300s while top five-year ewes were very consistent across the yards at $170-$210 though the balance varied from $120 to $165. To put that into perspective, 20 years ago in 2000 older ewes at the January Stortford Lodge ewe fair sold for $35-$70 and vendors walked away happy.
When looking for an explanation as to why the breeding ewe market was not as consistently strong as many hoped the finger needs to be pointed at a few factors. A dry summer is not unusual for most areas but has had an impact with fewer buyers keen to take on extra mouths. Sliding schedules and tight processor space is also held accountable as well as a larger volume of ewes available at these fairs this year. Also, the number of buyers looking for replacement ewes appears to be diminishing year on year, with a swing towards trading and fattening stock rather than dealing with the workload that comes with breeding stock.