High hogget prices and poor weather have prompted farmers to send increased numbers of breeding ewe lambs for slaughter.
Finished lamb prices have been exceptionally high since the start of the year with prime hoggets achieving record deadweight prices in mid-April.
Prices are being buoyed by the value of sterling which has been supportive of exports, while putting downward pressure on imports.
Auctioneers are this week reporting continued shortages in the number of old and new season lambs coming forward, nudging prices back up in some areas.
James Sealy, auctioneer at Newark Livestock Market, said farmers were feeling depressed by the fact there had been no let-up in the weather, with some suffering big ewe and lamb losses and many running out of straw and fodder.
As a consequence, more were looking to sell ewe lambs and he had sold two runs of more than 100 lambs at his most recent sale.
Figures produced by AHDB show the GB liveweight old season lamb (OSL) price for the week ending 25 April was 231.8p/kg, 52p higher than the same point last year. In the previous week, it had been 2.45p/kg higher.
The GB liveweight SQQ for new season lamb (NSL) was up 18p/kg, taking it to 301.36p/kg.
The deadweight OSL SQQ fell by more than 20p/kg to 578.8p/kg in the week ending 21 April, but this was still 168.6p/kg more than in 2017.
The GB deadweight NSL SQQ was 600.4p/kg.
However, even with these animals coming forward he was still selling far fewer hoggets than last year – 1,500 this week, compared with 5,500 in the equivalent sale of 2017, because higher prices had already drawn out most sellers.
The top price for hoggets at Saturday’s sale (28 April) was £190 a head.
Jonny Williams, senior livestock procurement officer for farmer marketing group Farm Stock Scotland, said the situation was variable.
They were seeing more bottom-end ewe lambs than normal come forward, although not as many as a month to six weeks ago.
“Money is quite tight out there and people are looking to realise a bit of cash. They are also short of grass, as people have been feeding far longer than they hoped.
“However, ewe losses are higher than normal in the hills, so people are also being cautious and thinking about their replacements.”
‘Dearer than Easter’
Russell Steer, auctioneer at Exeter market, said he had seen several people kill ewe hoggs before Easter, but not so many over the past few weeks
However, if trade continued as strongly as it was, he could see more farmers choosing to go back and look at them as an option.
At Monday’s sale (30 April), 570 hoggs sold with a top price of £173 a head or 276p/kg with spring lambs selling for a top of £150 a head or 383p/kg.
Overall lambs averaged 302p/kg which is 2p/kg dearer than during Easter week.
Elwyn Davies, auctioneer with Hobbs Parker at Ashford Market in Kent said supplies were very tight and as result prices were sharp, with hoggets averaging 244p/kg at their last sale.
New season supplies were two to three weeks behind normal, but he was not expecting many more ewe lambs to come forward. “We’re not expecting it in the south east in any great numbers.”
Rebecca Oborne, sheep market analyst for the AHDB, said there was anecdotal evidence that people were sending ewe lambs forward to help with cashflow and because new season lamb was coming on stream later than normal.
However, AHDB was not forecasting any significant contraction in the UK breeding flock.