prime lambs at market© Tim Scrivener

Rising spring lamb numbers are pushing down prices while the hogget trade held well at many markets in the first half of this week.

After a post-Easter dip, new-season lamb numbers almost doubled in GB markets to just over 6,700 in the week including Tuesday markets. This produced an 18.5p/kg drop in average prices to put the new season SQQ at 246.45p/kg lw.

About 5% of the 143,541 lambs sold through markets in the week including Tuesday were spring lambs.

See also: Farmers urged to market finished lambs early

Hogget numbers in the same week rose by almost 30% but the SQQ average held steady at 198.82p/kg. Light-, standard- and medium-weight hoggets were all well above 190p/kg, while heavyweights were at 181.6p.

The new-season lamb price was slightly down on a year ago but hogget prices were holding up well, given the numbers, said Eblex analyst Debbie Butcher.

Exports still account for one in three lambs, despite the strength of the pound.

The NSA’s call to ensure lambs were marketed before reaching a year old was echoed by Eblex.

“It’s an issue every year and in years where we have bad weather it has been a real problem,” said Ms Butcher.

At Exeter market in Devon, auctioneer Russell Steer said that the price penalty for going over a year was about £8-£10 a head this week. He supported the call to change to a date-based test for lamb carcasses having to be split.

With many early lambing flocks in its catchment, Exeter is one of the earliest markets for big spring lamb numbers and sold 895 spring lambs on Monday (13 April) compared with 1,090 hoggets.

Spring lambs at Exeter topped at £105.50 a head with an overall average of 221p/kg lw.

The impact of numbers was clear, said Mr Steer, as the 380 spring lambs sold the previous week had averaged £105 a head.

Some of the hoggets could have done with going through the store rather than the finished ring as they were underfinished, he said.

“Some are mixing a few heavy hoggets in with the mutton which is just helping the heavy hogget trade.”

The cull ewe trade continues to be very strong, with more than 28,600 head sold through GB markets in the week to Tuesday at an average of almost £91 a head.

This was a rise of more than £3 a head on the week despite the 34% increase in numbers, which are down on last year, keeping trade strong.  

Almost 900 cull ewes were sold at Exeter to average £99 a head, despite 20% of these being hill sheep, said Mr Steer.

Ross Auction Centre in Herefordshire saw a better trade despite higher hogget numbers this week at 1,650 head. The SQQ here was  199p/kg; however there were too many heavy hoggets, said auctioneer Martyn Evans.