Trade for store lambs is proving extremely strong this autumn, buoyed by firm finished prices, reduced supplies, and a good export market, say auctioneers.

In the week to 21 October, store lambs averaged £44.85/head in England and Wales, according to Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board data. That was 39% higher than a year ago, and compared favourably to a 23% rise in the average liveweight finished lamb price over the same period.

Store lamb throughputs at auction markets in England and Wales during September totalled 111,000 head, a rise of 3% compared with a year earlier, said the AHDB’s weekly market report. However, in the first three weeks of October throughputs amounted to 85,000 head, 3% lower than in the corresponding period in October 2008.

DEFRA’s June census recorded a 3% reduction in UK lamb numbers over the year – a drop of 542,000 head. But Peter Crichton of Hill Farm Sheep reckoned this year’s lamb crop was even smaller than many people were expecting. “That, and a good growing season, combined with lower feed costs, means there are fewer store lambs coming forward because people are selling them fat.”

The weak pound – at 90p against the Euro compared with 80p a year ago, and strong export demand, were also helping to support the finished market. Finished SQQ lambs were fetching 138.4p/kg in the week to 27 October, against 112.4p/kg a year earlier – a clear reason why farmers were keeping more lambs to finish, he said.

Brian Pile, auctioneer at Thrapston Livestock Centre, Northamptonshire, said store lamb trade had been firm all year. “The very long keep lambs, that will be coming back in March or April next year, are fetching £40-£45/head, unless they are very small, and the strong lambs are at £45-£50/head.” That was between £7 and £10/head up on last year’s prices, he said.

“There is a bit of a shortage of lambs because people have continued to sell finished lambs all season – hoggets after Christmas could be in short supply because I’m sure we have slaughtered a lot more this year than normal.” However, over the past four to eight weeks farmers had brought more stores forward due to a lack of good grazing, he added.

The latest show and sale at Shrewsbury Auction Centre, on Tuesday, 27 October, produced an excellent trade of store lambs, said Halls auctioneer John Rossiter. The show attracted an entry of 530 head, with the winning pen selling for £59/head. “There was a flying trade throughout the sale, with at least three new buyers present looking to purchase a large number of lambs,” he said. “We could have sold many more lambs to the vendors’ advantage.”