As new season lambs start to appear in paddocks on early country, in-lamb ewe fairs are usually a common occurrence around the sale yards but if 2020 has taught us anything it is that this year is not one to be trusted to be normal.
Dry and drought conditions had the biggest impact on the number of in-lamb ewes available for the market as farmers in both islands were forced to cull into breeding flocks to take pressure off stressed paddocks. While, ideally, keeping these ewes in the system would have been the best outcome the reality was that farmers needed to offload as soon as they possibly could but still faced delays in some cases because of covid-19. As a result, calendared in-lamb ewe fairs around the country were cancelled, with only a handful still held at Temuka and Te Kuiti. While there were some sizeable yardings of in-lamb ewes at other yards on regular sale days there were not enough to warrant an extra day of selling.
The biggest reduction in numbers has been for the older ewes, not surprisingly, and at the Temuka in-lamb fair there was a significant decrease in the number of annual draft consignments, which are typically cast-for-age. Also of interest has been an increase in the number of run-with-ram lines offered, even on smaller volumes. In some cases this was because of ewes being offered for sale earlier than they could be scanned but some farmers were also not prepared to take on the extra cost of scanning, even if it would have meant a few extra dollars in the pocket as buyer-preference is obviously for scanned lines.
Prices for in-lamb ewes appear on the surface to be softer than last year but as the weeks have progressed it has become clear that is more a reflection of the condition and lower lambing percentages plaguing farmers this year. The dry and drought conditions have been tough all round and have had a noted impact on scanning percentages with a larger number of dries as well as fewer multiples. It has also been a tough ask to keep condition on any stock and while many farmers have supplementary fed ewes, low water quality and lack of green feed still had an impact.