A cautious prime lamb market has seen prices track upwards into 2019 to start the year on a positive note.
Stronger trade is being helped by tightening supply, according to mart throughputs and Defra slaughtering figures.
Furthermore, the AHDB predicts lamb numbers between January and May to be 7% smaller on the year, which analysts say should be supportive of prices going forward.
Prices have lifted 4-5p/kg at Ayr over the past week, settling at an average of 194.8p/kg and 199.8p/kg SQQ for 1,270-head on Monday (7 January), with a trend for fewer heavy lambs.
This is according to auctioneer Drew Kennedy of Craig Wilson Livestock, who has seen average weights drop to 41-42kg from 45kg over the past six weeks or more.
He added that quality was good, after a trend of lambs being penalised for being overfat around November time, and suggested that into February and beyond, supply was likely to tighten.
“I would expect lambs to be getting tight, and by March/April time there will be less about,” said Mr Kennedy.
“It won’t be immediately though. We often see some big draws of lambs at the end of January when dairy farmers want lambs off fields.”
Newark’s trade lifted 10p/kg on Saturday (5 January) to average 203p/kg at an SQQ of 207.95p/kg for a total of 1,735-head, according to James Sealy, Newark Livestock Sales.
Extra slaughtering hours needed over the weekend after festive bank holidays had stoked prime lamb demand for buyers, which helped Saturday’s trade.
Mr Sealy said trade had improved, even compared to the Christmas sales, which averaged 193p/kg, lifted by championship Beltex lambs averaging more than £3 and topping at £6.74/kg.
“One concern of mine is that store lamb feeders will hold on to lambs too long,” said Mr Sealy, who reported 500 “heavy lambs” on Saturday.
“Heavy lambs can be hard to sell at times and I fear that it will be difficult for another repeat of last year’s phenomenal spring prices.”
He stated that an export-type 40-44/45kg lamb was the best to sell and worth as much as a lamb at 55-60kg. “If it’s weight you are looking at then look at the pound [£] a head price, not the SQQ.”