Spring lamb numbers rising, but not enough to dent prices

New-season lamb (NSL) numbers are starting to build, but levels are well down on the same point last year, which could underpin a buoyant market through June.

Rebecca Oborne, AHDB analyst, said more spring lamb was starting to come on stream, but the throughput was still almost one-third (23,000 head) down on the same week in 2017.

See also: Slaughter figures suggest cull ewes are returning to farms

“We are finally seeing more of new season than old season come through to markets but we’re still very behind year earlier levels,” she said.

“In the year to date, we have had 24% less NSL though than last year, which is just under 80,000 head.”

Ms Oborne said it was at this point last year when prices started to ease back – dropping by a total of 37p/kg over a four-week period – but it could now be a couple more weeks before a significant number hit the market.  “As the numbers aren’t yet available, it is probably going to support prices for another couple of weeks.” 

Auctioneers’ view

Auctioneers report that trade for lambs remains strong because of short supplies, but some are warning that farmers in a position to sell now should do so because of the uncertainty about future pricing. 

James Sealy of Newark Market in Nottinghamshire said no one could have predicted how high hogg prices were going to go in March/April May and it was anyone’s guess what was going to happen.

All of his farmers were telling him their lambs were two to three weeks behind last year, but he pointed out he had seen NSL supplies build quickly over the past month, from 200 to 500, to 1,000 and then to 1,500.
“My advice for farmers is if they are fit, they want selling.”

Mr Sealy said he had sold 1,624 spring lambs on 9 June which achieved an SQQ average price of £259.30/kg.

He had also sold 2,030 hoggs which averaged an SQQ of 183.37p/kg. “There were buyers for them, but at a price.” 

Jonathan Evans, selling at Welshpool market in Powys on Monday (11 June), said he had seen 3,200 spring lambs go through the ring with prices averaging 259p/kg, which was similar to the week before.

“There’s not the numbers of sheep there to knock the trade back, but there is going to come a glut at some point.”

Will Alexander said the trade at Gisburn market in Lancashire on Thursday (7 June) had been good with prices for spring lambs averaging 268p/kg, which was 6-8p/kg higher than the week before.

“Good lambs are ranging from 280-316p/kg, with good quality butchers’ lambs going for 300p/kg and above. “The more commercial lambs are 250 to 280p/kg.”

According to the Beeston Castle in Cheshire’s market’s report for its spring show and sale on 7 June, 497 NSL were sold making an overall average of 269.3p/kg.

In total, 15 pens made more than 300p/kg and 24 pens grossed more than £120 a head. Old season lambs made a top price of 220p/kg, but averaged 183.1p/kg.

AHDB price update

Figures from AHDB show the SQQ liveweight price for spring lambs in the week ending 6 June rose 2.29p to 260.35p/kg.

In contrast, the old season lamb SQQ fell for the sixth consecutive week, down 8.31p on the week, to 186.17p/kg. This is the lowest the quote has been since the third week in January.

The average deadweight price in the week ending 2 June dropped sharply, by 52.2p, to 537.9p/kg, but is still 31p/kg higher than at this point last year.