DESPITE the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, sheep farmers have enjoyed a buoyant trade over the past month, with both the store and the prime markets witnessing higher prices on the year.

And, the upward momentum looks set to continue, going by the early live markets of this week coupled with industry reports that there has been a pickup in demand for lamb from France.

According to an AHDB report, France was not only buying more British lamb for French supermarket promotions during December, but is also stockpiling lamb in case of a hard Brexit scenario.

Such has been the demand, that for the week ending December 26, the GB liveweight SQQ gained a massive 10.52p on the week to level at 195.94p per live kg kg, which is almost 10p above year earlier levels and just short of 15p up on the five-year average.

Prices continued to rise in the week ending January 2, with the SQQ gained just over 6p to stand at 202.39p per kg – almost 10p per kg more than in the same week in 2018.

Similarly, the deadweight trade increased by almost 10p, to stand at 423.8p per kg which is 18.7p higher on 2018 and a massive 30p up on the five-year average. However, with this being Christmas week, estimated slaughterings were more than 50% down on the week, and 31% down on-the-year according to Rebecca Oborne, red meat analyst at AHDB.

According to Archie Hamilton, prime sheep auctioneer at Lawrie and Symington's Lanark Market, lamb prices were 20p per kg up on the same sale last year at Monday's sale and there were a lot more being sold compared to the previous week.

“We also saw a large show of ewes, which were again firmer, especially for the better quality ewes. Over fat ewes are still very hard to sell, our buyers want big ewes but they must be lean.”

“I think trade will stay good if sheep are marketed well – and at a steady rate. Producers shouldn’t purge the market. There is certainly good demand on the Continent.”

As prices for old season lambs head north, so too are store sheep, with C and D Auction Mart's sale of more than 6000 stores at Longtown, on Tuesday, selling to a whopping £100 per head.

“There is great confidence in the sheep industry – our store lamb sale at Longtown was the dearest it has been to date, which bodes well for our prime sale, although there are very different markets. I would think our prime sale of 5500 lambs at Longtown, will average around the 190p per kg mark.”

Mr Walton also warned that over fat ewes are proving difficult to sell. “They need to be nicely covered but not fat. Good ewes are selling well, we sold 608 on Tuesday to a stronger trade and a top of £120.”

In Stirling on Tuesday, Caledonian Marts sold 976 prime lambs to average 198p, up 7.4p, and to a top of 240p, or £108. Alistair Logan ................