Processing demand is outstripping supply in the sheep trade at present.
Slaughter-fit lambs are in short supply and factory agents are upping the ante with higher prices to entice farmers to sell.
With a scarcity of lambs on both sides of the Irish border, farmers with a good supply of numbers to offload are in an extremely strong position to negotiate on price and agents are keen to lock in numbers.
Only Ballon Meats and Kildare Chilling are quoting for Thursday, with both plants leaving prices unchanged.
This keeps lambs on €7.60/kg and €7.70/kg respectively.
At the outset of the week, several processors made moves to tighten their grip on the trade by capping deals at €7.80/kg.
However, reports indicate that factory throughput nose-dived as farmers refused to offload. In response, deals of €8 to €8.20/kg were quickly offered to secure adequate throughput by midweek.
But as more lambs started to come on stream, it seems the trade was quick to settle again around the €8/kg mark.
Compounding the problem for processors has been the rapid decline in hoggets coming on to the market.
While numbers were naturally tailing off, it appears that this week in particular has seen a sharp downturn in availability, with only a fraction of the kill consisting of last season’s lambs.
Moving to next week, the initial outlook is that the market should hold firm, as there is little sign of any great upturn in supply.
Reports indicate that grass growth is increasing and farmers are under less pressure to sell. In addition, many farmers have started worming programmes and with lambs in withdrawal periods, this is also slowing down animals coming on the market.
Again, only Ballon Meats and Kildare Chilling are quoting for ewes, with prices unchanged on last week.
With limited numbers, demand is holding firm, with plenty of appetite for fleshed lowland types.
North of the border, the availability of lambs has also tightened and processors have had little option but to increase prices.
Base quotes are on 640p/kg (€7.80/kg inc VAT), with deals of 650p/kg (€7.96/kg) being offered midweek.
The live ring is exceptionally strong, with buyers looking to export lambs to southern plants driving the trade.
In Britain, hoggets are making 640p to 650p/kg, with new-season lambs on 680p/kg (€8.33/kg).