Tim Tyne’s Tips
For purchasers, many sheep sales come too late, so why isn’t there more farm to farm trading, asks Tim Tyne
Sales time for sheep
SEPTEMBER SEES sheep sales in full swing as the majority of breeding stock comes on the market around this time. Some of the lowland breed societies will already have held their official sales in August and the hill sheep may hold off until well into October, but September remains the busiest time as ewes and rams are purchased now in preparation for October mating to give conventional March born lambs.
Vendors tend to favour later sales, particularly for rams, as it gives the animals more time to mature, thus making them look far more masculine and impressive in the ring. Ewes will also have grown a bit more fleece and so will look a little larger if they are presented at a later sale. However, from a purchaser’s point of view (and from a sheep health perspective), the majority of sales are too late as they don’t enable buyers to quarantine incoming stock for a sufficient length of time before joining them with the holding’s existing flock for breeding purposes.
The problem could be solved by farmto-farm trading of livestock that can be carried out independently of any auctioneers’ calendar and has numerous other benefits, but for many vendors the sale ring is their shop window, giving them an opportunity to display their animals before a large audience in an attempt gain widespread recognition as a breeder of top quality stock. For purchasers, too, the auction market has its advantages as comparisons between animals from different sources can easily be made when they are all penned up side-by-side on one day.
What can be done?
Without a major groundswell shift within the wider sheep industry, I can’t see much chance of anything happening soon, although encouraging noises are being made in the right quarters. In the meantime, here are a few things that you could be doing:
Make sure that you record the details
of everyone who has purchased breeding sheep from you in the past, so that you are able to mailshot them with regular updates and details of forthcoming stock for sale well in advance of the sale season. However, be aware that new GDPR legislation may limit what information you are allowed to keep and what use you can make of it.
Find out from other vendors and purchasers whether they would support earlier sales in your area/of your breed, otherwise you might just be a lone voice in the wilderness.
If you are a member of a breed society, put pressure on them to bring forward the dates of their official annual sales. Bear in mind, though, that you may be dealing with people with particularly entrenched views on the matter, so be prepared for considerable resistance. Persevere and eventually you may begin to see some results.
Speak to your local auctioneers. They may already be holding earlier sales that you are unaware of. If not they may be prepared to hold an earlier sale provided you can convince them that it will be supported.
Consider starting your own sale. Several large-scale breeders have successfully held an annual sale either at their own farm or at a local market. However, for this to be worthwhile you need to have a lot of animals. You also need to have some kind of USP to draw in the customers. If you have been a consistent winner on the show circuit that may help to generate sufficient interest. Otherwise, performance related data could be used as a selling point, as could novelty value, such as in the case of a newly imported or recently developed breed. If you don’t have enough sheep to justify holding your own standalone sale then think about joining forces with other breeders who have similar aims and objectives. The sale could be hosted by whichever of you has the most appropriate location, with regard to access, parking, etc. You will also need to discuss issues such as licensing animal movements onto and off the site and bio-security with your local authority. It may take several years for a new sale to gain recognition and support, so be prepared for some initial disappointment. Persevere and you will be rewarded.
Make maximum use of social media for promotion and marketing.
September is the busiest time for sales of breeding sheep