The sheep trade has firmed on average over the last week, despite no upward movement in base quotes.

Kildare Chilling continues to offer a base of €6.50/kg plus its 10c/kg quality assurance (QA) payment, while the two Irish Country Meats plants are quoting a base of €6.35/kg plus 20c/kg QA.

Ballon Meats remains on an all-in quote of €6.50/kg and reports indicate western plants not officially quoting on bases of €6.35/kg plus 15c/kg QA and to €6.45/kg plus 10c/kg QA.

Sellers trading on an individual basis and possessing lower negotiating power are moving small numbers in the region of €6.55/kg to €6.65/kg.

Producers trading through groups are receiving returns ranging from €6.65/kg to €6.75/kg for R grading lambs in the main, with top prices for U grading lambs rising above €6.80/kg.

Regular sellers handling large numbers are also trading at a similar level to producer groups.

There are reports of higher prices being paid to agents this week and this is reflected in the purchasing power exhibited in some mart sales.

But, as pointed out in the sheep mart comment, there is significant variation between marts and, as such, care should be taken when considering if the dead or live trade is the best outlet.

Figures from the Department of Agriculture show last week’s sheep kill falling by over 2,000 head to 59,247.

The breakdown in the kill shows 50,602 lambs, 6,528 ewes and 2,117 lambs/hoggets, but it is likely that the latter figure is categorised incorrectly, given this has been in the region of 100 to 200 head in recent weeks.

Throughput is running 1,479 head above the corresponding week in 2022 for the first time in many months.

Ewe trade

Factory prices range in the main from €2.70/kg to €3/kg for better-quality ewes, with prices at the higher end of the market rising to €3.20/kg to €3.30/kg in abattoirs or wholesale outlets.

Demand for poorly fleshed or light carcase ewes is sluggish, with quotes falling back to €2.50/kg to €2.60/kg in many plants for ewes delivering a carcase less than 35kg.

Reports indicate that the number of ewes in the market has reduced and this is evident with more bite in marts for ewes. Producers should weigh up their options, particularly for heavy fleshed ewes.

Northern trade

Quotes in plants in Northern Ireland are in the region of £5.30/kg (€6.08/kg).

The mart trade is giving producers a strong alternative outlet, while agents purchasing on behalf of southern plants are also active. This is evident in the number of sheep exported south for direct slaughter rising by over 2,400 head to 10,611 last week. This in turn is leading to top prices of £5.40/kg to £5.45/kg being paid to regular sellers, with northern plants keen to retain sheep.