The focus in sheep factories has quickly shifted from satisfying demand for the Easter trade back to purchasing for the Islamic festival of Ramadan.

The strongest demand will be at the end of Ramadan, which falls on 2 May, with Eid al-Fitr marking the end of a month-long fasting during daylight hours.

Buying for the festival will remain strong until at least well into next week, with factories content to operate at higher than normal levels of throughput.

This is reflected in last week’s kill being recorded at 58,300 head, despite one day’s less processing in most plants.

Firm demand is maintaining a strong floor under prices paid, with both base quotes and prices unchanged on the week.

A high percentage of quality assured hoggets are trading within a range of €7.25/kg to €7.40/kg, with specialist finishers and those handling high numbers continuing to negotiate up to €7.50/kg.

Prices are being influenced to a greater degree by the carcase weight of hoggets, with all plants continuing to report upwards of 30% of hoggets killing in excess of 25kg carcase weight in daily kills regularly.

The number of spring lambs in last week’s kill was recorded at 4,884 head. This represents an 80% increase on the previous week, with throughput likely to experience a similar increase this week going on the trends in recent years.

Factories are keen for lambs, but not at higher prices. Their efforts in keeping prices static will be strongly influenced by how quick hogget throughput starts to fall off.

Prices in the main range from €8.10/kg to €8.20/kg, with some groups and finishers with long-standing relationships securing an extra 5c/kg to 10c/kg.

IFA sheep committee chair Kevin Comiskey says prices for spring lambs and hoggets are not reflecting increased costs.

“Prices are currently running up to 30c/kg below last year for hoggets. Prices in the UK and France have shown strong growth in recent weeks and factories must come forward with significant price increases to reflect market conditions.”

Demand for ewes also remains solid, with quotes averaging around the €3.80/kg mark. Again, sellers with greater negotiating power are securing prices ranging from €3.90/kg to €4/kg, with agents handling large numbers operating above this level.

Factories in Northern Ireland are attempting to reduce prices, with quotes for hoggets back 10p/kg and lambs 5p/kg. Hoggets are quoted at £5.80/kg (€6.99/kg) but regular sellers continue to secure between £5.90/kg and £6.00/kg (€7.23/kg).

Lamb quotes are £6.25/kg (€7.53/kg), but, again, those with stronger negotiating power are achieving 10p/kg to 15p/kg higher.