Well another month gone by with no resolution to the Brexit debacle, only further delay and uncertainty – until when? It could be May, then again it could be June, it could even be October or any random date in between.
There are a few positives though, at least the shambles known as “Operation Brock” has, in part, been disbanded, (temporarily?) with the coast-bound M20 carriageway now reopened for normal use, although the London bound is still heavily restricted and has the potential to generate major problems.
The deferment has also taken the immediate pressure off sheep trade, not a bad thing at a crucial time of the year with both Easter and Ramadan falling within a few weeks of each other. Trade this week (w/c 15 April) has dropped back a bit with a lot of lambs coming out of the woodwork in the run up to Easter, and Ashford this week had just short of 6,000 sheep forward. Prices are OK but certainly could be better, I suspect a number of producers have retained hoggets expecting the rapid rise in prices that we saw last year, but this simply has not happened and the bigger hoggets (a few in excess of 60kg) are now being fairly heavily discounted with 55kg sheep making the same price as those 15kg lighter and only a couple more pounds than those at 45kg.
The trade for new season’s lambs was even less exciting with lighter ones (34kg) making 263p/kg but some heavier lambs failing to achieve 200p/kg; how things change. I can remember 40 years ago, lambs going into the Maidstone Easter market and being disappointed if they didn’t make £100+ per head and that was when production costs were considerably lower. The biggest difference I imagine is the change in the market structure and the greater influence that smaller retail butchers had in the past, maybe it will all be OK again after Brexit. But what we would all rather have is some degree of stability, not the further six months (potentially) of uncertainty that are now facing us.
Unfortunately it has not just been politicians that have vacillated over the past month; the weather really has been almost as bad, although, in the overall scheme of things, significantly less disastrous. We have waivered from warm and dry to cold and wet (the weather that is not parliament) with a consequent impact on stop/start grass growth. I know my permanent pasture is generally a bit slower getting going, particularly as I rely largely on clover to provide the free N, but many producers seem to be in a similar position regardless of grazing system and management. The cold nights recently really have certainly impeded grass growth, it’s not that I don’t have grass in front of the ewes, but normally at this time of the year I would expect a little bit of a buffer generated by the spring flush, but I’m still having to ponder each shift and manage grass supplies quite carefully, spring has not quite sprung, yet. That said the lambs have continued to grow well.
Another positive was an almost full-page piece regarding sheep worrying by dogs which, made page three of the Times (for the Sun readers probably not quite what you are thinking). The incident involving some of Frank Langrish’s sheep occurred in late March, where six sheep were killed and a further eight subsequently had to be put down. The two dogs involved, owned by a hedge fund millionaire who lives nearby, were shot on the scene and returned to their owner, where they were deposited on his front lawn.
The owner appears to have been rather reluctant to face Frank but eventually came out to speak to him and grudgingly accept that the dogs were his, and only later wrote a letter of apology. This in itself is not surprising, it puts me in mind of a dog worrying incident, that I had a few years ago now where one ewe teg was quite literally torn apart and a number of others injured. The relatively wealthy owner of the dogs (caught in the act), simply wanted to write a cheque and tell me that his cousin was (at that time) quite a famous television comedian, but did not recognise or even want to recognise the gravity of what had occurred, nor accept any real responsibility and that it was something that actually mattered to me, as it would to any sheep keeper. I seem to remember telling him at the time to go away, to put his cheque-book in a rather dark place and that I really was not terribly interested in who his cousin was. I might not, however, have phrased it quite so politely.
What was most surprising about the Times piece was the final paragraph, which read “Sussex police said it would not be taking further action against the owner of the dogs because the animals were dead.” This in spite of the fact that the same dogs were suspected of involvement in the deaths of four sheep in December 2018 and that two Alsatians, owned by the same person, were put down in 2012 after they killed 23 sheep. The inaction is completely wrong on a number of counts and represents a substantial failing on the part of Sussex police. This ranks alongside other recent failings; and their inaction sadly transmits completely the wrong message to other dog owners, a message that a few sheep really don’t matter. Further, to say that they will not take action against the owner “because his animals (dogs) were dead,” is absurdity of the worst kind, the action may have been carried out by the dogs, but it is the owner who is responsible; or are we to return to the medieval concept of having a whipping boy to suffer the punishment for wrongdoing by others?