Ram prices a potential sign of better market

Breeding stock | Average ram prices were down from last year, but one seller is hopeful of market improvement

Prices for sheep breeding stock are down slightly compared to last year but surprisingly good considering the low lamb market, says recent ram sale consignor and sheep buyer Warren Moore of Stavely, Alta.

The seventh annual Pound Maker ram sale May 23 in Fort Macleod, Alta., averaged $754 per head on 105 rams, down $112 from last year when the average was $866.

The top selling ram, at $1,800, was a Rambouillet consigned by Moore and purchased by Brian Franz of Irvine, Alta.

Seven breeds, mostly Suffolk, were on offer and only Rambouillet had a higher average than last year, $764 compared to $648 in 2012.

The 63 Suffolks averaged $790, ($913 in 2012), nine North County Cheviots averaged $786 ($1,019), nine Dorsets averaged $675 ($827), six Hampshires averaged $512 ($818) and two Coloured and two Charollais averaged $613 ($725) and $600 respectively. No Charollais were offered last year.

Consignors included Moore and his wife, Norine, Bert and Andrelei Grisnich of Fort Macleod, Andy and Frances Pittman of Picture Butte, Alta., and Freda Horton of Keremeos, B.C.

“We were very pleased with the results,” said Moore in a later interview.

“If we didn’t know what market lamb prices were, we’d be very happy with the sale … and now we’re delighted with the sale,” he added, noting lamb prices are about half what they were at sale time last year.

Lambs are running at about 90 cents per pound now, and feeders at $1.15 per lb. Last year at this time, lambs were bringing $1.80 to $1.82 per lb. and feeders were selling at $2.25 per lb.

Moore said last week’s ram prices show lamb producers are still willing to invest in genetics and build their flocks despite the recent plummet in lamb prices.

He attributes the price drop to about five different factors, among them the high retail price last year that made some consumers balk.

The U.S. drought forced producers there to dump animals onto the market and parity of the Canadian and U.S. dollar resulted in cheaper lambs imported from the U.S., Moore said.

High feed prices also affected the economics of production.

“With $6 barley, it’s hard to feed a low priced lamb. It costs you more to put a pound of grain on a lamb than the pound of lamb is worth.”

Last year’s high prices also encouraged Canadian producers to retain lambs for breeding herd expansion, shorting the market and driving prices up further.

“There is a global lamb oversupply and a global low price of lamb,” said Moore.

Despite that, Canada produces only about half the lamb consumed domestically. Much of the rest comes from the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

Looking ahead, Moore said American producers might be keeping more replacements this year now that the drought has eased and feed prices are likely to be lower. Higher fuel prices can also discourage imports from the U.S.

“Will it get back to where it was? No, I don’t think so, not for awhile,” Moore said.

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