The Stortford Lodge saleyards came back to life on May 14 when the Covid-19 lockdown eased to level 2, meaning life could return to something like normal.

The only sign of the continued alert was having to sign in at each sale and being able to use only one entrance.

The first special store sale was a relatively quiet affair with a small yarding and a tentative air as buyers eased back into it.

PGG Wrightson livestock manager Neil Common said lambs sold for more that day than they had during the lockdown.

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However, the cattle market was more tricky and has remained so since. Good cattle have sold well but anything longer term was a lot harder to sell because the feed is simply not there.

A special weaner fair held to replace two lost to the lockdown was hard work for agents. Although good steers sold readily, heifers were not wanted.

Common said Hawke's Bay farmers generally finished a lot of heifers but the prolonged drought and a shortage of feed had changed that.

The annual in-calf cow fair was also a victim of the virus but Common said plenty were sold privately while the yards were closed.

He said they averaged $800 to $1000/head and many of them went for processing because the buyers were not there. Without auctions to set a price agents had to go by the works price plus the value of the unborn calf.

Only a few have appeared at the yards since.

In the sheep sales, prime ewes began to show the effects of the lack of feed. Despite that there was a steady lift in prices. The numbers coming forward are expected to lift as ewe scanning progresses.

Prime lamb prices and quality held firm as they also began to arrive in numbers. The best topped $160 to $170, not far from pre-Covid highs.

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After the first sale store lambs arrived in big numbers and sales topped the 10,000-head mark. They met solid demand as contract finishers with new grass and irrigation bought them. Most male lambs went to buyers from Waikato, Wairarapa and Manawatu.

The good quality of most of the lambs was a feature although there were plenty of lighter ones as well. Big lamb sales are expected for a few weeks yet.

Some capital stock scanned-in-lamb ewes have arrived and demand for them has been good. However, a noticeable premium was paid for scanned ewes over those sold as run-with-ram. Most of the ewes were in good order but some were showing the effects of the feed shortage.

Common said although the rain of Queen's Birthday Weekend was welcome and the sight of green grass lifted spirits it was too late for good growth. Lighter stock in all classes was expected for the rest of winter as farmers unloaded animals they could not finish.

Farmers were feeling grim because of the weather "but at least prices are holding up and spring is on its way".

The Hawke's Bay Drought Facebook page was also cheering people up and generous donations of feed from all over New Zealand was a great morale booster.

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"It's always good to see stock eating again."