THE annual round of pedigree ram sales kicked off in earnest at Ingliston, near Edinburgh, yesterday when the cream of the young Suffolk sires were presented.
It proved for the most part to be a lacklustre event and many vendors must have gone home disappointed. The overall average for the 154 rams sold out of a catalogued entry of 251 was a respectable 2,136 – down by 271 on the year, when two more were sold.
The top sheep, as ever – and most of them came from the so-called magic circle of breeders who tend to operate at valuations that amaze commercial producers – sold exceptionally well with a quintet selling for 10,000 guineas or better (pedigree livestock are still sold in a currency that is no longer quoted on the financial exchanges).
Jimmy Douglas from Woodhead of Cairness, near Fraserburgh, is one of those rare characters who show little sign of emotion. But he did display a small smile yesterday when he sold his reserve champion for no less than 62,000gn.
The buyers were the brother and sister team of Iain and Judith Barbour from Dumfries. They run 98 pedigree ewes in separate flocks. Their father, who is a major player in the potato business, said: "We bought this sheep for his breed character."
Douglas had minutes earlier sold at 20,000gn to Harry Stewart from Northern Ireland. The flock master of Cairness left the sale with well over 100,000 in his back pocket, and spent very little.
The first big price of the event came when Angus Wilson from Bowden Moor, near Melrose, sold his best at 12,000gn to Robbie Wilson – no relation – from Turriff. Young Angus Wilson, who in recent years has rented land all over the Borders on short-term agreements, is now chasing a 15-year tenancy.
Robbie Wilson with his Strathisla consignment enjoyed a grand trade, selling his pre-sale champion for 10,000gn to fellow Aberdeenshire breeders Barclay Mair and Neil Benzie as well relishing in a range of prices over 5,000gn.
But there was a general perception on the part of many commercial breeders that the Suffolk rams of the modern era are far removed from commercial reality.
Big heads, strong bones and power sell the top sheep to a select band of breeders, but those bones are the first to be consigned to the bin in abattoirs. Yield of chops and gigots will be far more important in the longer-term. Pedigrees count for little unless they are supported by predictable performance data.
And it was abundantly clear from the limited demand yesterday that farmers are now looking for something different and more in line with the real world.
Robyn Hulme, a former president of the Suffolk Society, has undergone a "Damascene" conversion in recent years. Along with several fellow breeders he has imported a range of Suffolk genetics from New Zealand. These sheep are different and would be unlikely to pick up any sort of prize at the major shows, but they do appear to be delivering.
Labour is set to be the limiting factor within the sheep sector, but Hulme, who has sold no fewer than 75 of the New Zealand-type Suffolks in recent weeks, and at decent commercial prices, is convinced that he has found the future.
He said: "I have been here at the top of the trade with my father in the past, but we have to focus on the commercial trade. We need sheep that can look after themselves and grow on well with good carcases. Easy-care is what we must have."
Hulme has a list of satisfied customers, among them John Davies from Ceredigon in North Wales, who said: "Using a New Zealand Suffolk made a real difference at lambing, with fine shoulders making it so much easier. They get up and suckle quickly and I hardly handled a ewe at lambing.
"The lambs are smaller at birth, but finish better and quicker off grass when compared to UK-sired lambs. We will keep the ewe lambs for future breeding."
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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