By Farmers Weekly staff

FARMERS with early-lambing flocks aiming for premium Easter prices are keeping a close eye on the hogget trade.

The big question is what impact the downward trend in hogget numbers – 30% fewer over the past two weeks – will have on the notoriously fickle spring lamb market.

Hogget numbers at Penrith, Cumbria, have been down 2000 a week for several weeks but, despite fewer entries, this weeks average price dipped about 10p/kg, in line with most other centres.

“Cheaper feed this season is one thing that will help farmers to push their inside lambs fairly hard to hit the Easter trade,” says Penrith auctioneer Michael Bowe. “But this weeks hogget market proves no one can predict prices from one day to the next, never mind several weeks ahead.”

Auctioneer John Hughes at Lancaster expects to see the first spring lambs within the next two weeks, and is keeping tabs on the marketing campaign for New Zealand lamb.

“The market needs watching closely. There are conflicting reports about hogget numbers, but if supplies do dry up and there is a gap in the market before British new-season lamb comes on stream, the New Zealanders will grasp the opportunity.

“The New Zealand advertising campaign has already started but every effort must be made not to allow our own marketing strategy to give imported lamb a head start.

“I think the sooner spring lambs start to come available the better. There is every incentive to keep lambs growing and get them away early,” says Mr Hughes.

The seasons first suck-lambs have been on offer at Exeter, Devon, for the last three weeks with prices starting at 100p/kg, rising to 114p/kg and then dipping to 108p/kg.

“This week we had 300 forward with 40kg lambs making about £43 apiece,” says Alan Venner. “Before we started the season farmers were wanting at least £40 a lamb and they have more or less achieved that.”