2020 will go down in the record books for marts as a hugely challenging year.

COVID-19 restrictions saw the trading environment change from the norm of buyers and sellers ringside to a period where all mart sales were cancelled before resuming with varying levels of restrictions.

Marts adapted to the restrictions and thankfully most have recovered at least some lost ground, with a strong finish to the year. The current state of play is likely to be the new norm for some to come, while, on the bright side, there are positive signals for the trade resuming where it left off this week.

Sale entries have been variable, with some marts held over the weekend and early in the week recording lower throughput, while others recorded higher than anticipated throughput as the week progressed. Some farmers were anxious of transport-related trade disruption and opted to move sheep before the break in the trade.

Demand is firm and is underpinning a steady trade for slaughter-fit lambs. Lambs weighing 50kg to 54kg ranged in price from €124 to €129 for good factory-type lambs, with select lots of heavier and excellent-quality lambs selling from €130 to €133.

Lambs weighing 47kg to 49kg range from €116 to €125, while lowland lots weighing 43kg to 46kg are selling from €108 to €114 on average.

Scottish Blackface

Demand for light Scottish Blackface hill lambs has been a bit slower in recent weeks, with lambs weighing 25kg to 30kg selling in the region of €2/kg.

Heavier and larger-framed lambs are selling from €2/kg for plainer types to €2.15/kg to €2.20/kg for types with a nice cover of flesh and capable of meeting French specification (over 17kg) weights.

The trade for good in-lamb ewes lambing in January remains solid and this was evident in a clearance sale of 52 ewes at Cahir Mart on Tuesday. They were mainly three- and four-year-old ewes lambing in mid-January to a Charollais ram.

The majority were good-quality large-framed Suffolk ewes presented carrying an average of two lambs each. The top six pens averaged €196, ranging from €182 to €205. A couple of pens of light, small-framed crossbred and Texel-cross ewes carrying 1.2 to 1.4 lambs sold from €120 to €145.