THE PRIME LAMB market has seen a consistent year‘s trading with no major fluctuations apart from seasonal changes, but the removal of the retention period in 2005 heralds a new era of sheep selling.

Archie Hamilton, auctioneer at Longtown mart in Cumbria, handles 300,000 head of prime sheep a year.

“The past year produced no dramas but with no retention period anything could happen to traditional marketing patterns. This is a new ball game for prime lamb producers.”

Prime lambs didn‘t suffer any serious dip in values during 2004 with spring lambs reaching 200p/kg.

But the autumn surge in supply dragged levels down to just over 100p/kg at most auction marts.

The pre-Christmas market firmed by a few pence and if that lift continues into the New Year it is expected to pull big numbers of hoggets onto the market.

But finishers must watch animals‘ weights carefully.

One major lamb buyer said: “Big Suffolk lambs can stand the kilos to make a margin on their £40 purchase price, but Mule wethers at heavy weights will be seriously discounted.

“Some finishers are getting lambs too rich.”