A slump in prices and demand at the annual breeding ewe fairs has taken farmers and buyers by surprise.
Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said about half of the sheep at last week's big Stortford Lodge ewe fair in Hawke's Bay failed to sell, which is unprecedented.
He said the sales figures indicated a lack of confidence in the sheep industry. After the drought which hit Hawke's Bay last year, a number of farmers were looking at other options like dairying and beef, rather than re-stocking ewes.
Mr Wills said supply at the fair had been larger than usual with around 16,000 ewes up for sale. Farmers were working on the basis there would be strong demand for ewes after the drought, but found the demand was not there.
He said prices were also well down with many ewes selling in the $120 - $160 range, while a couple of year's ago a lot sold for more than $200.
Mr Wills said he was told some ewes sold for less than $100 last week which is below their meat value.
Similar trend in ram sales
Prices and demand at the annual summer ram fairs have also been muted.
The Canterbury annual ram and ewe fair held late last year had a higher clearance rate than previous years, but prices were down.
Results of the Gore ram sales this month have been mixed, with one or two breeds achieving higher prices than last year but overall prices and demand being subdued.
PGG Wrightson livestock genetics manager Bruce Orr says that reflects the on-going decline in sheep numbers, which also reduces the need for breeding rams.