Competition among agents for lambs and hoggets has stepped up a notch this week, with live exporters entering the fray and purchasing higher numbers of ram lambs.

The tightness in supply is reflected in last week’s throughput easing to 40,730 head, a reduction of over 500 on the previous week.

Throughput is running over 7,500 head lower than the corresponding week in 2023, with year-to-date throughput running over 111,000 lower.

Factory agents are keen for sheep, but base quotes remain unchanged. Lamb quotes are in the region of €9.50/kg for quality assured lambs.

Producer groups and regular sellers are securing returns ranging from €9.60/kg to €9.70/kg, with reports of sellers handling very large numbers topping this range.

The only real movement in quotes is the two Irish Country Meats (ICM) plants raising carcase weight limit to 21.5kg.

Quotes for hoggets are unchanged, leaving a significant differential between prices paid to producers handling small numbers and possessing low bargaining power and to finishers handling big numbers.

Base quotes are in the region of just €9/kg or €9.15/kg to €9.20/kg for QA hoggets, but prices ranging anywhere from €9.30/kg to a top of €9.50/kg to €9.60/kg have been reported for large consignments.

The ewe trade continues to benefit from keen competition from agents purchasing ewes for live export or processing in smaller plants or abattoirs.

Quotes are typically starting in the region of €4.20/kg, with Ballon Meats topping prices on offer at €4.40/kg.

Northern trade

Supplies also remain very tight in Northern Ireland, with throughput in recent weeks recorded in the region of 5,500 head to 6,200.

Last week’s kill was over 1,500 head lower than the corresponding week in 2023, with throughput to date running over 10,000 lower.

Competition has also been boosted this week by buyers from Britain purchasing sheep for exporting live.

Plants have lifted quotes by 10p/kg to 20p/kg to stay in contention with the live trade, with base quotes for Thursday ranging from £8/kg to £8.10/kg (€9.32/kg to €9.44/kg).

Regular sellers and groups are securing 10p/kg to 20p/kg above quotes, with prices at the top end of the market at the equivalent of £8.30/kg to upwards of £8.40/kg (€9.79/kg).

In contrast, plants are moving to pull hogget prices, with quotes falling by 20p/kg to 30p/kg and ranging from just £7/kg to £7.20/kg (€8.16/kg to €8.39/kg), with regular sellers and specialist finishers having success in securing prices similar to last week.

The latest AHDB market report shows hogget prices averaging at £8.38/kg (€9.73/kg), while spring lamb prices are averaging at £9.27/kg, equating to a price of €10.80/kg. This shows why agents are keen to purchase sheep for exporting live.