BY Jeremy Hunt

If the prices being paid for the first new season lambs to hit the pre-Easter market are anything to go by, auctioneers say producers with lambs to sell into the mainstream trade in late spring should be feeling confident. This week saw the best sorts nudging £135 at some markets.
But while this year’s late Easter holiday may have been a boon to the trade in years when a few extra weeks of finishing would have been welcomed by early lambers, this season’s lambs are looking well forward in condition.
There were plenty of creep-fed lambs on offer this week – and some were heavy enough at 45kg and over – but auction marts across the UK say buyers are there for all weights and have been paying up to £2.50-£3/kg.
Inside-reared spring lambs weighing 40-41kg have been making about £115-117 at some markets, but it will be another month or so before sale rings, particularly those in the North, see numbers start to increase.
Despite a strong start to the spring lamb season, the impact of the hogget trade cannot be ignored. There’s no shortage of feeders still mopping up stores for finishing as many traditional late-season hogget sellers are only just getting into gear.
It will be another four weeks before new season lambs start to come forward in quantity at Skipton Auction Mart in North Yorkshire, but Ted Ogden of CCM Auctions says the trade so far suggests producers should feel upbeat.
“I think once we really get going numbers will start to come forward faster than we’ve seen in recent years. March-born lambs have had a far better start than they’ve had for a year or two. But conversely there are a lot more ewes with twins and that could mean these lambs take two or three weeks longer to finish before they hit the market.
“There’s plenty of demand among retail butchers for new season lamb and while prices will have to compete with the late finished hoggs still to come forward, those with spring lambs to sell should be confident about the trade.”
Top price at Skipton on Monday were Suffolk cross Texel lambs averaging 50kg from Mark Evans at Steeton, West Yorkshire. They were taken by a retail butcher at £134 apiece.
Exeter Livestock Market has been enjoying a cracking trade for spring lambs with almost 1,000 forward this week and prices hitting £114.50.
“Trade is picking up all the time,” says Kivells and Husseys auctioneer Russell Steer. “The really sappy spring lambs are certainly sought after, with 38-40kg lambs commanding a premium. But there’s still a trade for the heavies with single lambs selling at up to £110-112. Most of our spring lambs have been at grass and are looking really well.
“A big percentage of our hoggs this week were over 45kg so it looks as though there are still a lot of the hoggs to come forward that won’t fit the export market. Without a doubt that means new season lamb could be in for a good trade.”
Concern that the volume of hoggets still in the system is being underestimated – and that the Welsh borders in particular are holding big numbers – may well be true judging by the large entries at many marts this week.
Auctioneer John Rossiter of Hobbs Parker at Ashford Market, Kent, says there’s still a lot of hoggets to kill before the new season trade really gets going.
“We only had six pens of new season lamb in on Tuesday with prices up to 271p/kg for 37kg Poll Dorsets, but even though we’ve had smart Beltex hoggets making up to £123 today, prospects for spring lamb look good.”