By Jeremy Hunt

THE EASTER HOLIDAY saw the traditional price bonus for early lamb producers who managed to have lambs ready in time, but market returns in the coming weeks look less assured.

Apart from auction marts in the south west, where entries have already reached three figures, the early Easter meant fewer lambs were forward at many markets.

 Spring lamb trading is well under way in the West Country with around 200 a week going through Taunton market. Auctioneer Charles Clarke said: “The best lambs weighing about 45kg have been making up to 70 a head and we averaged 140p/kg just before Easter. We don”t get big numbers until the end of March but the quality so far has been excellent.

 “I don”t think there are going to be huge numbers of early spring lambs on offer this year and although the hogget trade has been flat the early producers are hoping their trade will remain buoyant,” said Mr Clarke.

 Leek auction mart in Staffs averaged 215p/kg with prices reaching 4/kg for a Charollais-cross. But some local butchers were still holding back.

“There”s a lot of very good quality hoggets about. Some local butchers haven”t started to buy spring lambs and will wait until they can tap into a consistent supply for their customers,” said Leek auctioneer Graham Watkins.

 Auctioneers in the north reckoned too many over-finished hoggets had contributed to the lower prices in recent weeks compared with 2004, but lately there had been a marked improvement in quality as more Blackface and Cheviot type lambs hit the market.

 “These could put pressure on spring lamb prices in the coming weeks,” said Carlisle auctioneer John Wharton.

 “We had some very good Suffolk-sired Easter lambs weighing up to 52kg. They sold to 80 and averaged 152p/kg, but there”s not many about.

 “Because early lambing isn”t as popular as it used to be, those with lambs to sell are hoping the scarcity value in the coming weeks could sustain prices. But the quality of the best hoggets will continue to attract plenty of interest,” he said.

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com