Borderway Auction Mart owned and operated by Harrison & Hetherington is one of the UK’s leading livestock trading centres, and here the company’s Managing Director Scott Donaldson gives update on the first quarter of the year and his thoughts for the coming months.

SINCE the beginning of 2021 livestock values have shown some encouraging signs, unless you’re in the Pig Industry of course, as this sector has been severely impeded by Global market trends.

Despite the prophets of doom forecasting disaster following Brexit, the lamb sector has fared remarkably well ever since, and that not only did the doom not occur, it has in fact, turned into a boom.

Demand from the home market combined with a surprisingly feisty export market has driven hogget values well beyond the hopes of even the most optimistic crystal ball gazers’. Recent live markets values have now already hit the £200 mark on several occasions, and cast ewes are reaching similar values. Leading the charge are the auction markets, heavy hoggs frequently exceed £160 and best export types are regularly in excess £3.40 per kilo, this is well in front of any deadweight price on offer.

The competition for finished cattle is becoming just as compelling. With a shortage of supply and the imminent reopening of the hospitality trade the processors are scratching their heads wondering how they can guarantee supply. Price quoting and specification appears to be a moving feast as the weekly posturing and poker playing provides avid entertainment for anyone interested.

Store cattle markets across the region appear to be breaking barriers every week, and despite the cold snap and shortage of grass there doesn’t appear to be any cooling the desire of purchasers. The auction market, as it has been for generations, is once again proving invaluable as a true gauge of value in this volatile trading environment, with Carlisle’s Borderway Auction Mart, proving to be the centre of choice for both vendors and purchasers across the North of England, South of Scotland and beyond.

Milk production continues to be a game of two “halves”, the have’s and have nots. Good contract or ordinary contract, and with the North of Scotland losing the majority of its producers, the industry is becoming centralised, and sustainability is very much determined by location. That being said, the trade for replacement heifers remains extremely buoyant and Carlisle is the recognised dairy cattle sales centre for the Northern half of the UK, with large numbers coming forward at our two monthly sales, as well as frequent dispersal and production sales.

Now this might all sound like beef, dairy and sheep producers are on cloud nine, but make no mistake, the cost of production has never been greater and other costs are rising. Compound feed rose over £50 per tonne after Christmas and it is currently at about £260, feed barley is over £160 per tonne and straw values are frequently reaching in excess of £120 per tonne. The cost of labour has increased again, and fuel prices are lifting, so any increased returns being seen by farmers are being eaten into by input costs.

So, in summary livestock prices are strong but rising production costs mean that producers are using a lot more capital to achieve little or no more margin.

Looking into the near future, we anticipate huge interest in our upcoming feature sales of Pedigree cattle and sheep with sales kicking off on May 7 and 8 with Limousin Bulls and Females. This is followed the next weekend by our pedigree Continental sales comprising of Charolais, British Blue, Simmental, Blonde and Saler Bulls and females over May 14 and 15. May 21 sees the start of our pedigree Native sales with Aberdeen Angus, Beef Shorthorn, Hereford, South Devon, Lincoln Red and Belted Galloway cattle on offer.Pedigree sheep sales take place the same weekend with entries of Beltex, Blue Texel, Badgerfaced Texel and Dutch Spotted, females on the agenda.

The Annual Sales of Commercial Beef Breeding Cattle and Ewes and Hoggs with lambs at foot really bring that feeling of Spring to the auction with sales at Carlisle, Kirkby Stephen and Broughton in Furness throughout April, May and June.