Factories have moved this week to take the recent heat out of the trade.

There has been no change in demand, with plants still happy to operate at high throughput, but their purchasing activity is more muted with the focus on curtailing upward movement and steadying the trade.

Some agents are using a tactic of being slower to quote for hoggets and are less inclined to match the higher prices paid at the top of the market last week.

But at the same time they do not want to lose out on any sheep, with prices paid as the week progresses dependent on the negotiating power of the seller.

Prices at the higher end of the market range from €6.40/kg to €6.50/kg, with some plants trying to curtail upper prices in the region of €6.45/kg.

This has seen a stand-off develop in cases between producers with high numbers on hand and regular sellers, with some said to be willing to hold hoggets.

The outcome of this and numbers coming on stream in the coming week will influence how the trade performs.

There is a high percentage of hoggets trading from individual sellers between €6.30/kg and €6.40/kg, with numbers moving below a price of €6.30/kg small up to now and confined to sellers trading infrequently with low negotiating power and handling non-quality assured sheep. Many plants failed to quote for Thursday, or reduced quotes by 10c/kg.

Last week’s kill was steady on the previous week, with throughput of 53,433 head. This includes 6,798 ewes. The kill is 4,501 head lower than the corresponding week in 2020, with the ewe kill recorded at 1,850 head lower.

As such, the ewe trade is holding solid with relatively tight numbers helping demand.

A high percentage of ewes are trading in the region of €2.85/kg to €3.05/kg, with sellers handling large numbers and trading towards the top end of the market securing returns of €3.10/kg to €3.20/kg.

Prices have firmed in Northern Ireland and are generally in the region of £5.40/kg to £5.60/kg or the equivalent of €6.07/kg to €6.30/kg at an exchange rate of 88.9p to the euro.

Prices in Britain vary between region and range anywhere from £5.60/kg to as high as £6.00/kg or €6.30/kg to €6.70/kg.

Retail sales

IFA sheep chair Sean Dennehy said the latest supermarket sales figures to the end of 2020 show continued strong performance and significant growth in volume and value.

“The latest 12-week period to the end of December 2020 shows a volume increase of 14% and price increase of 4%, contributing to overall spend on lamb increasing by over 18% compared to 2019.”

Commenting on Brexit developments, Sean said: “The Brexit agreement must be utilised to benefit Irish sheep farmers and a key aspect of this is revisiting the requirements surrounding the movement of breeding sheep to Northern Ireland.”