The sheep trade has started the week in a bright manner, with agents keen for lambs and marts reporting a positive resumption to trading, as outlined in the mart comment below.

This is giving sellers more options and helping the bargaining position of producers who were struggling to negotiate direct with factories.

Base quotes are steady to 5c/kg to 10c/kg higher. The greatest movement is in Ballon Meats, which has raised its all-in quote to €6.70/kg.

Kildare Chilling has been quoting €6.60/kg plus 10c/kg for quality assured (QA) lambs this week, while the two ICM plants in Camolin and Navan remain unchanged on €6.45/kg plus their 20c/kg QA payment.

An increasing number of lambs have been traded upwards of €6.70/kg in the last week. Producers selling individually and handling small numbers are securing returns ranging from €6.70/kg to €6.75/kg for QA lambs.

Those handling higher numbers and trading through groups are securing upwards of €6.80/kg for R grading lambs, while top prices including conformation bonuses for U grading group lambs range from €6.90/kg to €6.95/kg.

Sheep kill

Last week’s sheep kill was recorded at 46,351 head. This compares with 51,760 head for the corresponding week in 2023. The kill includes just 4,005 ewes, with signs of more demand in the market for ewes.

This is evident in a firmer mart trade, while the two ICM plants have raised their ewe quote by 10c/kg to €2.70/kg.

Producers should continue to weigh up their options when drafting ewes. Kildare Chilling is quoting €2.90/kg plus 10c/kg QA for ewes ranging from 35kg to 43kg carcase weight, while Ballon Meats remains top for good-quality ewes with its quote of €3.20/kg.

Caution needs to be given over carcase weight limits, which range from 43kg to upwards of 46kg.

Live exports

Live exporters continue to operate, with numbers low relative to the weekly kill, but another welcome source of competition.

There is good interest reported, with almost 1,000 head exported in December and close to 30,000 sheep exported live in 2023. This compares with just 12,000 head in 2022.

Northern trade

Quotes are creeping upwards in NI factories, with base quotes of £5.40/kg (€6.29/kg) up 5p/kg on the week.

Regular sellers and those trading through groups are securing returns of £5.50/kg to £5.55/kg (€6.39/kg to €6.45/kg), while at the top end of the market, £5.60/kg has been paid along with favourable terms on carcase weights in deals involving large numbers.

Agents purchasing sheep for direct slaughter in southern plants continue to add life to the mart trade, with mart managers report higher numbers coming forward as a result.