FEATURE: Off to market with our local sheep farmers...

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In the third part of our farming feature during the lambing season, Alex Dawson took a trip to the auctioneer to find out how much the lambs will be sold for.

At Market Harborough’s livestock market, the auctioneer is moving rapidly along a raised boardwalk above the metal pens of jostling lambs that are up for sale.

He rattles out the price per lamb: “Eighty ... and a half ... eighty-one...”

“It’s good that the auction is quick” says local farmer Craig Langton, the farmer the Mail has been following this year, who has lambs here today from his flock of 360 ewes at Burton Overy, north-west of Market Harborough.

“What you don’t want is a slow auction, with buyers turning their heads away.”

This is the business end of the lambing season, when the nervous farmer meets the impersonal meat market.

So far prices are good, but it’s still early in the year for British lamb, and prices will drop as more local lamb comes onto the market and takes over from imported New Zealand lamb.

“It’s already down a lot from last week, which was phenomenal” said Craig.

For a farmer like Craig, who has more than 600 lambs to sell this year, an extra £10 a lamb can make a significant difference to his income. He will sell almost all his lamb at this local market, only 20 minutes drive from his farm.

This week it’s also the Market Harborough Fatstock Society Summer Show at the local livestock market, which is off Lubenham Road, near Foxton.

The talk is of farm crime and out-of-control dogs killing local sheep.

Meanwhile, award-winning lambs have elevated the prices again here - the Overall Champion pen of lambs went for the top price of the day - £130 each.

“People with show lambs weren’t disappointed” said Craig.

Show judge Tom Griffith reckons lamb prices are up £10 to £15 on this time last year. “Farmers should be fairly happy” he said.

There are three key markets for lamb, and each has its preference, says Tom.

The important ethnic / Muslim market has lambs between 35 and 38kg; supermarkets and export want 38 to 44kg lambs - larger won’t fit their packaging - and butchers go for the 44 to 50kg lambs.

Nevertheless, UK fresh meat consumption falls year on year - down 1.8 per cent in the year to January 2016, according to trade magazine Farmers Weekly.

Even though lamb bucked that trend last year, low prices meant revenue was still down.

Most of Craig’s lambs are still on his farm - but this year, so far, prices are good.

Summer Show results: Class 1: Best Pen of four continental lambs. First / Overall Champion - 48kg lambs (Texel-cross) from Sue Ellingworth of Kimcote. Boughtfor £130.

Second and Reserve Champion - 47kg lambs also from Sue Ellingworth - £103.

Third S.I. & C.L. Gilbert, Wistow, with 41kg lambs - £94

Class 2: Best Pen of four native cross lambs: First - R.A. Wadland & Sons, Cranoe - 44kg Suffolk-cross - £97.

Second: R.A. Wadland & Sons, Cranoe with 47kg Suffolk-cross - £97.

Third: J.W. & B.A. Deacon, South Kilworth with 39.7kg lambs - £86.

READ THE TWO PREVIOUS FEATURES HERE:

FEATURE: Farmer preparing for the birth of 650 lambs

Mad March on a farm with 75 births a day!