The prospect of more sun, solid lamb prices and outstanding mutton returns combine to deliver hill country farmers in particular a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

It has been a long, wet winter, but spring is now finally here and the country is generally looking in good shape with most classes of livestock doing well, but more sun is needed to get new season lambs up to weight before they can be killed. That should help keep the schedules strong this side of Christmas as meat companies compete to fill their chains.

Independent Whanganui livestock operator David Cotton said the lamb schedule was still holding at over $7/kg (new season at $7.50/kg) with the last of the old season lambs being killed before their teeth come up.

"But the good news here is that even if they grade mutton the current mutton price is as high as I can remember at $4.80/kg, so killing the old cull ewes this year will see a good size cheque hit your bank account before Christmas," Mr Cotton said.

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"This in turn will underpin the ewe fairs market later in the year and the spinoff of higher prices will help hill country farmers that have lost substantial wool income over the last 12 months balance their books."

There wasn't too much to report on the livestock market as it is normally quiet this time of the year with people tending to their docking and sowing crops.

"Many of my colleagues are reporting an especially quiet period due to the lack of livestock numbers to be traded. The change in farming policy, storm events and facial eczema in recent years have all contributed to the lack of livestock to be traded," Mr Cotton said.

Early reports from the docking teams indicate the lambing percentage has been good, mainly due to the wet, but mild winter and good lamb survival rates.

Tom Dinwiddie, managing director of Wanganui Veterinary Services, said scanning results suggested a 15 per cent lift in lambs this season and anecdotal evidence from farmers indicated that would be backed up when docking had been completed despite the wet.
The cattle markets are also holding strong with small numbers coming out.

"We have seen a move by some buyers to 100kg calves which are selling at $50-60 a head more than last year as calves are a cheaper way to retain cattle on the farm without securing a second mortgage to buy them," Mr Cotton said.

"I certainly get the general feeling around the country that most farmers are positive with the ewe and lamb market looking strong, the cattle price holding its own, interest rates remain low and all we need now is an improvement in the wool price and the weather gods to play their part for us to enjoy a good season financially and mentally."

With his real estate hat on, Mr Cotton said buyers have been spoilt for choice with the large number of properties on the market around New Zealand, and some exceptionally good ones too.

"The sale reports coming in this spring to date have shown no let-up in the sale price and once the prices have been released to the public you may find you are living in a more expensive farming district without having to shift." ¦