While hill lambing in some areas of Scotland is still underway, new season lambs from the south of Scotland and England are starting to appear on the market.
Old season lambs still make up the majority of prime sheep on the market, however, with new season lambs only representing 1% of auction markets sales in Scotland and 14% in England and Wales in the past week.
“While new season lamb volumes are lower than this time last year, total auction throughputs of prime sheep are continuing to run higher than last year, suggesting that there is still a tail of old season lambs to reach the market,” said Stuart Ashworth, Quality Meat Scotland’s Head of Economics Services.
Across the UK as a whole around two-thirds of the 2016 lamb crop had been slaughtered by the end of March, a two percentage point reduction on the same period last year, he said.
“Despite a larger 2016 lamb crop the actual number of prime sheep slaughtered between June and the end of March was also lower than last year supporting the prospect of a higher volume of old season lambs to come onto the market through April and May,” observed Mr Ashworth.
While there was an increase in the volume marketed in early April in the run up to Easter, post-Easter auction sales have still had higher volumes of old season lambs than last year up to the most recent sales, with around 40% of these animals being heavier than 45kg lwt.
“Seasonal demand at Easter helped to drive producer prices higher in early April, but since then they have lacked direction and are currently failing to match last year’s levels,” said Mr Ashworth.
“In contrast, the first of the new season lambs are realising slightly higher prices than a year ago on lower volume. In euro terms, though, the UK prime sheep average price is some 8% lower than last year, in contrast with major producers like France and Ireland where the euro price to producers is fractionally up (less than 1%) on the year.”
Scottish lamb will, therefore, be competitive on the European market, he observed. “The challenge is that export activity in late April and May is often subdued as Easter demand has passed and the arrival of new season lamb from Ireland takes some market share from old season lamb from the UK.”
However, while new season lamb numbers are climbing quickly in Ireland, they are currently trailing last year’s volumes. Mirroring the UK, total Irish prime sheep slaughter numbers are running higher than year earlier levels in 2017 to date.
Likewise, although the all-lamb average price in Ireland is slightly higher than last year, old season lambs are trading at a discount, and new season lambs are trading at a premium, on last year.
“In both the UK and Ireland then new season lamb values have started on a firm footing and it is likely that demand will be generated by the Muslim festival of Ramadan - which this year runs from sunset on May 26 to June 25,” added Mr Ashworth.
“These dates, however, are very early in the sheep marketing year and prime lamb availability may be limited. As a result the festival may offer temporary support to both the prime and cull stock market rather than the main lamb market.”