Store sheep© Tim Scrivener

Store lamb trade is strong as the sale season gears up for its peak.

Store prices at £6 to £8 a head higher than last year are supported by a firm finished trade which in turn continues to benefit from the weaker pound.

While many farmers and auctioneers say lamb throughputs have been heavy and that numbers will get tighter through autumn, AHDB cautions that the England census showed 1% more lambs on farm in June than last year and that finished lamb numbers could rise in the final quarter of the year.

See also: Sheep – should I stay or should I go?

Lamb production 

At 1.1 million head, July’s UK lamb slaughterings were up 3% year on year. Figures for August this year show a 2% drop compared with the same month last year, with carcass weight down by 0.5kg to an average of 19kg.

Mutton and lamb output overall in the same month was down 3.3%, according to Defra.

Store lamb averages

Prices for week to 24 September

  • Scotland – 29,630 head sold – average £46.93, down £3 on previous week
  • England – 45,354 head sold – average £55.70, down 93p on previous week
  • Wales – 3,751 head sold – average £47.19, down 18p on previous week

Source: AHDB

The wet, slightly colder spring meant lambs had finished more slowly than usual, leaving higher numbers on the ground by June, said AHDB Beef & Lamb senior analyst Mark Kozlowski.

Many markets have big bookings for store lambs at sales through October. Neil McCleary of C&D Auction Marts sold 6,316 store lambs at Longtown Mart, Cumbria on Tuesday (27 September).

While a slight dip in the finished trade was reflected in prices for those for immediate and long-term finishing, “in-between lambs” needing a month to six weeks to finish, were up by £2 to £3 on the previous sale, achieving prices in the mid £60s a head, with the best over £70, he said.

This had been helped by a strong contingent of buyers from south Wales who were looking for big numbers to justify the long haul.

“A lot of fat and store lambs were sold through August,” said Mr McCleary. “I think the fat trade will be flat for a week or two, then it will pick up again. People want good meat on these lambs, there have been a few thin lambs in the fat ring that should have been in with the stores.”

He is expecting store numbers to rise by 500 next week, peaking at about 10,000 head by the third week in October.

Finished trade dips

Finished lamb trade has dipped slightly, with R3L lambs through a sample of deadweight centres averaging 404.5p/kg in the week ended 24 September.

Liveweight trade in the week ended 27 September saw standard lambs drop almost 6p/kg to average 165.98p/kg on a throughput that was more than 8% up on the week. Medium weights averaged 174.44p/kg, also a drop of just over 4p/kg on a 9% higher throughput.  

Buyers are keen to secure finished lamb numbers and good grass growth meant that regular draws must be made, advised Borders based marketing group Farmstock.

However, poorly finished lambs further south were dragging the SQQ average price down, said operations manager David Marshall.

Back in the store rings, CCM Auctions had 7,640 head of stores forward at Skipton market in North Yorkshire on 21 September, averaging £57.51 a head.

Suffolk and continental lambs saw a sharp trade for all classes, with the strongest stores in the mid to late £60s a head and long keep lambs in the mid £50s a head.

About 8,500 head are expected at the next sale on 5 October.

Ludlow market in Shropshire also saw a strong trade on 23 September for 5,827 head, with strong lambs averaging £71.10 a head, medium store lambs averaging £64.20 and small store lambs averaging £58.50.