It’s hard to deny that sheep prices in 2021 were very strong and although input costs are on the rise and look set to eradicate any margins that could be made in 2022, 2021 will be looked back on in a very positive way.

Lamb prices throughout 2021, both at mart and factory level, remained strong pretty much throughout the course of the year, except for the odd pull in price here and there that, in most cases, didn’t last too long.

Cull ewe prices reached unprecedented heights at marts in 2021, particularly for the first half of the year; however, they dropped off as the year progressed but witnessed a resurgence again towards the end of 2021.

Nevertheless, with strong sheep prices in the first half of 2021, many were looking ahead to breeding sales with big hope and optimism that prices would follow suit like it did for the lambs and cull ewes.

And, in cases they did, particularly at society-held sales for pedigree stock where record prices were achieved and exceeded expectations – with many a great day held by societies throughout 2021 – and also in the case for both male and female sales.

While the same could be said for smaller breeding groups who held special sales; some had seen a very good trade during 2020, another good year for sheep prices.

And again, some were entering these sales in August and September with high hopes for an even stronger trade, but in cases it didn’t materialise and left many breeders disappointed, while for others an improved trade was seen.

While at general mart sales, the trade for hogget ewes was again expected to be on fire and better than what was seen in 2020; however, once again that failed to materialise.

Now in saying that, the trade wasn’t bad by any means, but it seems it was built up too much and it led to a fair bit of disappointment among farmers.

A lot of farmers had more ewe lambs than usual in 2020 and some decided on implementing a ewe lamb to a dry hogget system, having a witnessed a good trade for them the year previous.

However, this year, when it came to selling these hogget ewes, the good-quality types sold well – let’s be honest – but the lesser-quality hoggets were a tougher sale and in some cases, led to a flooding of the market at some marts, as there weren’t enough farmers there to buy these hoggets to put them to a ram to lamb them.

In saying all this, farmers who saw hogget ewes as too dear, opted to buy ewe lambs which exceeded the hogget trade – mainly in terms of demand, but also in cases in price, at some marts throughout 2021.

And those who run a dry hogget system came back this year for more ewe lambs, but from talking to some, they haven’t bought as many as they did in 2020.

To summarise, 2021 for breeding sheep could be seen as mixed.

There were some great days and there were some not so great days. And the ones that were not so great, it wasn’t a case of poor stock being shown or anything like that, it seems the trade for breeding sheep was built up too high to a level that wasn’t to be reached – for 2021 anyway.