The cull ewe trade continues to intensify, with top prices hitting €4/kg and even higher this week.

Supplies are tight and factory agents are competing with live export and wholesale buyers, who are extremely active for well-conformed and heavy carcase ewes.

Base quotes have increased 10c/kg and are in the region of €3.60/kg to €3.70/kg.

Many producers are securing prices of €3.80/kg to €3.85/kg, while sellers and agents with significant numbers on hand are negotiating returns of €4/kg and even higher in isolated cases.

Demand is being underpinned by a vibrant trade in the UK and moves to bolster supplies ahead of the Islamic religious festival of Ramadan which begins on 2 April and lasts 30 days.

There are also moves afoot to bolster hogget supplies for Ramadan and Easter (17 April).

Factories are keen to make up for last week’s lower throughput of 36,085 head. This was still a relatively positive kill, given two days’ less processing and shows the appetite for sheep.

Quotes range from €6.75/kg to €7/kg, but this is not reflective of prices paid, with producers handling small numbers trading from €7/kg to €7.10/kg, with individual sellers with significant numbers on hand and producer groups typically trading in the region of €7.20/kg to €7.25/kg.

Some of these deals also include allowances on transport costs and waiving of cuts on carcases deemed overweight.

The latter is dependent on the numbers involved and negotiating power of the seller.

Mart managers report that some producers facing significant cuts are opting to present heavy hoggets in mart sales.

At the top end of the market, prices have firmed by 5c/kg to 10c/kg and this is being reflected in a strengthening in mart prices.

This is witnessing agents and specialist finishers handling large numbers securing returns of €7.30/kg, with reports of isolated deals rising 5c/kg to 10c/kg higher.

Opening quotes for spring lamb are in the region of €7.50/kg to €7.70/kg, with top prices on offer to producer groups including conformation bonuses rising to €8/kg. Reports indicate that only very small numbers have been drafted to date, with no real quantity expected until early April.

NI prices

Quotes in plants in Northern Ireland have increased by 10p/kg to a base of £5.70/kg. This is the equivalent of €6.84/kg at an exchange rate of 83.2p to the euro.

Top prices are 10p/kg to 15p/kg higher at £5.80/kg to £5.85/kg (€7.01/kg), with factories keen to ward off interest from buyers purchasing for southern plants. There were 4,978 sheep heading south last week, down from over 7,000 head in the week previous.