Drought impacts on cattle sales

By Carmen Hall

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The three blokes who bought two pens of sheep for their freezer have achieved their task. A flurry of dust and spits of gravel lay in their wake as they exit the Rangiruru sales yard, ewes bundled tightly in the trailer.

Brett Wahapango reckons he got a good deal; five prime Suffolks cost him $85 each and you can almost see him carving them up in his head, arm propped over the pen scrutinising his purchase.

"Meat is expensive. It's hard times with winter coming up ... jeez, one leg would cost $45 in the supermarket. I just want to put kai on the table to feed my family."

The auctioneers have a hard sell squeezing money out of the crowd. Eruptions of laughter cut above bids at suggestions some lambs just need to go once or twice around the paddock and eat some grass. They sold for $37 a head.

"Shocking" was how Ngongotaha farmer Gary Brake describes the current market sheep prices and he believes it will force many out of the industry. He shakes his head at the thought.

"I honestly can't see farmers sticking with sheep and lambs. They will get out. It's too up and down. I can't see why they can't follow cattle and dairy and keep the prices ... I blame it on the marketing side of things."

Born and bred Katikati dairy farmer Allan Williams says meat companies are making money off the drought. He casts his eye over the stock and squares his shoulders.

"They know very well the farmers have to get rid of these cattle because they can't feed them, so they have dropped their schedules and are cashing in on the bad luck of dairy and beef farmers."

The 74-year-old had seen only a couple of droughts as bad as this one and counts himself lucky that his herd was getting supplements.

"Farmers that feed, milk and look after their cows well will be rewarded when the rain comes. Their cows will bounce straight back but if they have let them go and put them on once-a-day milking and whatever else, they will be finished."

PGG Wrightson stock rep Simon Rouse is more optimistic. He says 850-odd cattle were offered at the Rangiruru sale this week. It was business as usual, with an average size sale.

Stock has come back 30 to 40 cents a kilo but were in line with the schedules and there was no panic selling at this stage, he says.

"We haven't been too seriously affected in the Bay of Plenty. There are still a few buyers around and we're going all right but if we don't get rain in two weeks, it's certainly going to get a bit more serious."

No light cattle had been presented, so no alarm bells have been ringing as far as stock condition was concerned, he says.

About 150 people attended the sale. The sun shone brightly, the temperature was high and there was not a rain cloud in sight.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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