Factory agents have been working hard to try to maintain hogget prices below the €6.50/kg mark.

Top prices paid to producers handling large numbers at the start of the week ranged from €6.40/kg to €6.45/kg, with some plants opting to cover transport costs rather than pay €6.50/kg.

Where a price of €6.50/kg was paid in isolated cases, it was typically confined to deals involving hoggets at lighter carcase weights and a maximum limit of 22kg or 22.5kg carcase weight.

Reports were slowly emerging on Wednesday of some deals being negotiated at €6.50/kg to 23kg carcase weight, but, again, these deals were also confined to specialist producers with strong negotiating power or offering big numbers.

The differential between prices paid at the top of the market and to producers with lower negotiating power has tightened in recent weeks, with factories willing to pay more at the lower prices to encourage higher numbers forward.

Sellers with less negotiating power are generally moving quality assured (QA) lambs at prices of €6.30/kg to €6.35/kg.

This price is being secured in Kildare Chilling without any negotiating by means of its base quote increasing by 20c/kg to €6.20/kg plus 10c/kg QA bonus.

The tightness in supplies is reflected in kill numbers remaining low for the time of year.

Last week’s throughput was recorded at 41,697 head. This represents an increase of 3,124 on the previous week, with the extra numbers comprising of hoggets.

Demand for ewes is variable, with some plants showing little interest and quoting a price of €2.80/kg to €3.00/kg, with top prices generally curtailed around the €3.10/kg mark.

IFA national sheep chair Sean Dennehy said: “Factory demand is strong, with most QA hoggets making €6.40/kg to €6.50/kg with deals to 23kg.

“Higher prices are available for groups and larger lots, while cull ewes are making €2.80 to €3/kg. Supplies are expected to remain tight and farmers should sell hard with the mart trade also comparing favourably to factory prices.”

Competition levels continue to be boosted in Northern Ireland by a strong appetite from northern processors and continued activity from agents sourcing sheep on behalf of southern plants.

The number of sheep coming south for direct slaughter reduced from 5,100 a fortnight ago to in the region of 4,500 last week.

Reports suggest in the region of 1,000 sheep also came south for further feeding.

Prices in the North continue to creep upwards and are being boosted by interest from southern factories and a vibrant British trade.

Quotes have increased to £5.65/kg (or €6.44/kg at an exchange rate of 87.7p to the euro). Prices at the top-end of the market are rising to £5.75/kg to £5.80/kg.

Meanwhile, last week’s British price was recorded by the AHDB at £5.93/kg (€6.76/kg), with top prices this week reaching £6.20/kg (€7.06/kg).

The strength of the trade in Britain has also opened up the potential to export sheep live from Northern Ireland and return a margin.