Lamb prices have strengthened by 15p to 20p/kg this week as a strong export market fuels processing demand on both sides of the Irish border.
Base factory quotes have risen to 495p/kg midweek, although 500p/kg is widely available for factory-fit lambs.
At the upper end of the market, 510p/kg has been paid to larger suppliers.
This puts finished lamb prices 60p/kg ahead of those recorded during the same week last year.
However, prices in the marts are running above those on offer at local factories, with slaughter-fit lambs returning £108 to £110 for good quality types. This converts to a deadweight price around 520p/kg.
Competition between buying agents for Irish plants is extremely sharp and with some southern processors now paying to a 21.5kg and 22kg carcas weight limit, these buyers have an advantage over local factory agents.
Prices on offer at southern plants have risen by 20c/kg this week, with deals of €6.40/kg available. This converts to a sterling equivalent of 515p/kg.
Prices have also hardened in Britain with 510p/kg to 520p/kg on offer. In Scotland, several processors have also increased the carcase weight limit to 22kg to entice more lambs onto the market.
With factory prices up on last year, and a strong run of prices in the spring, there is confidence among sheep farmers at present, which is reflected in the prices paid at breeding sheep sales.
Mule and Greyface hoggets sold for a record average of £193.57 at Ballymena Mart last Saturday, an increase of £20 on the previous year.
Prices peaked at £290 for a pen of 10 Mule hoggets, with other standout lots selling from £245 to £285. A total of 3,708 hoggets were forwarded, with a 95% clearance rate.
In addition to hoggets, an entry of 767 ewe lambs sold to an average £152.19, up £4 per head on last year. Top price was £212 paid for a pen of 10 lambs, with a number of lots making from £175 to £210.
Breeding sheep were also highly sought after at Markethill Mart last Wednesday with hoggets making a top price of £232, and the main run of sheep selling from £180 to £230.