Demand for lightweight export lambs is helping north country hill sheep producers earn almost as much for lambs being sold now, at barely 12 weeks old, as they would if they kept them until the autumn.

And as homebred lambs run out in Spain and Italy, auctioneers expect the export demand to strengthen in the coming weeks.

That should at least maintain prices at current levels as more lambs come forward.

Four weeks into the season, Kirkby Stephen auction mart in Cumbria has achieved a peak of 132p/kg for an entry of 160 head.

Last week’s average price dipped to 118p/kg for 250 head, but that is still a good return for lambs under three months old.

John Swift, who farms at Selside, Kendal, has been selling twin-born lightweight lambs sired by a Beltex x Charollais ram and bred out of North Country Cheviot ewes.

He has made up to £38 a head.

“These lambs weighed 30kg liveweight and were straight off their dams.

They are well fleshed and they are what the trade wants.”

Stuart Bell, of auctioneer Harrison and Hetherington, said although the average price did show some sign of easing, he hoped the anticipated demand from Spain and Italy would compensate.

“This trade will take lambs from a range of breeds and crosses providing they hit the specification.

But, in a year when sheep producers are facing no ewe support, it is even more important to get the best from the market,” he said.

Pure Swaledale wether lambs at 12 weeks old have been making £36.80 at 32kg liveweight, with Texel x Swaledales realising up to £38.50.