Lamb prices are expected to stay high over the coming weeks, with export demand underpinning farmgate prices.
Prices remain well above historic normal levels, despite having fallen back from the highs of mid-April.
Clean sheep slaughterings in the UK are up on where they were a year ago, but export demand is good, imports from New Zealand have declined and tight supplies and good prices are characterising the global market.
As a result, the producers’ share of the retail price of lamb has also shot up over the past three months, taking it to 67% – the highest for at least the past 10 years.
The Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA) points out that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on 17 May, which has meant high demand for old-season lambs, cull ewes and spring lambs over the past couple of weeks.
Demand from the halal market is also expected to be strong at the end of Ramadan (14 June) when Eid al-Fitr celebrations take place.
This will be followed by Eid al-Adha celebrations on 21 August, which is expected to result in a particularly strong trade for ram lambs of six months or over.
In the week ending 16 May, the average liveweight old-season lamb (OSL) SQQ price fell by 4.1p/kg to 237.03 p/kg, but this is 46.75p/kg higher than a year ago.
The new-season lamb (NSL) liveweight SQQ price was 303.96p/kg, which was steady on the previous week.
The LAA reports that after a tough start, because of the weather, the number of new-season lambs now coming into markets has started to increase.
But according to AHDB data, in the year to date, 13% fewer new-season lambs have come forward than at the same time last year.
Deadweight prices for OSL in the week ending 12 May rose by 9p/kg to 578.5p/k, which is 165.6p/kg above where it was a year ago, but down on the record prices seen in April.
The deadweight NSL SQQ followed a similar trend (+9.6p), moving to 610.5p/kg.
Rebecca Oborne, AHDB analyst, said lamb prices here have the potential to continue to be well above historic normal levels over the next few months, as prices on the global market were still trending high.
“I wouldn’t see them falling away drastically.”
Malton market in North Yorkshire said it sold 1,371 hoggs at its Tuesday market (15 May), which topped out at £180 a head and averaged 261.47p/kg.
It also sold 184 spring lambs with a top price of £136 (324p/kg) being paid for a 42kg Texel-cross.
Bakewell Market’s lunchtime sheep sale on Thursday (17 May) saw spring lambs reaching a high of £155 a head (346p/kg), with an overall average of £120 a head.
A “tail-end sample” of finished hoggs averaged 198.89p/kg, with well-finished, heavier types making the best prices, topping out at 252p/kg and £134 a head.
Ashford Market’s weekly report on its 15 May sale said demand for quality hoggets was still strong, with quality sheep making about £150 a head.
But its advice was to sell at these levels before the hogget trade inevitably slides as more new-season lamb comes on stream.
At Newark Market on Saturday (19 May), 627 spring lambs went under the hammer, making a SQQ average of 289.2p/kg, with OSL SQQ at 237.5p/kg.
Farmer marketing group Farm Stock Scotland said more spring lambs were urgently needed.
Over the past week they had been about 600-620p/kg, the highest ever start to a new trading year in living memory.
“We expect demand to remain very firm as abattoirs switch entirely from hoggets to new-season lamb in the next couple of weeks.”
The group is advising anyone with hoggets to cash them in as soon as possible to avoid missing out.