Finished lamb prices might be heading south as increased numbers come on the market, but with costs of production significantly less than last year and an abundance of grass for store lambs, there is a bit more optimism in the sector compared to beef.

Add to that a flying trade for ewes on the run up to the Muslim Qurbani festival – expected to start on August 21 – which requires sheep aged six months or more, with other preferences for ram lambs or undocked lambs – and flockmasters have that a wee bit more reason to be cheerful, despite the continued uncertainties of Brexit.

"Ewes are seriously dear for this time of year and are likely to continue to be a good trade for the next few weeks," said Archie Hamilton, head sheep auctioneer at Lawrie and Symington's Lanark market.

"Texel ewes were up to £156 per head on Monday at Lanark and that's selling three times more than what we sold this time last year," added Mr Hamilton who has just celebrated 52 weeks with the company.

"There is a strong demand for fit, not fat, ewes for the Qurbani festival on the home market, but there is also good demand for export-type lambs on the continent. Lambs in the 42-46kg range are selling best but we've also started selling light-weight lambs in the 30-36kg bracket at 175-180p per live kg for the Italian market.

And while lamb prices at Lanark were back slightly on the week, at 180p, Mr Hamilton was quick to point out they were 6p per live kg up on the year and for double the number sold compared to the same sale in 2018. Sheep throughputs have in fact increased by a massive 83,500 head since Mr Hamilton started at Lanark.

"We've lived with the uncertainty of Brexit for a good two years and while no-one knows what the end of October will bring, there is a shortage of sheep meat in Oceania and there are not the supplies in Europe there used to be.

"Farmers need some sort of livestock if they are to keep farming and the sheep sector is a lot more positive than beef and it's not governed by the processors either, with more now bringing their top end lambs to the market," added Mr Hamilton.

Drew Kennedy, auctioneer with Craig Wilson, also highlighted the improved market for ewes over the past couple of weeks, which at Ayr on Monday, saw a Texel cross at £106.50, while Blackies sold to £67.50. At Newton Stewart on Wednesday, ewes peaked at £123 for Texels.

And, despite the fact double the number of finished lambs are being cashed compared to the same time last year, values are very much on a par.

"We sold double the number of lambs during the month of June as lambs finished earlier and off grass compared to the same month last year," he said adding that input costs have also been significantly less compared to those of 2018.

"Ewes have had half the amount of feeding they had last year and most of the lambs have been finished off grass so farmers are prepared to accept a bit less for their lambs this year when they've not cost nearly as much to produce. They're also pretty happy to sell them at 41-44kg at £74-£75 per head rather than keep them for another few weeks when the price could be exactly the same or slip."

Mr Kennedy is also fairly confident for the store lamb sales with an abundance of grass throughout the length and breadth of the country.

"A lot of dairy farmers in this area alone will not need to get a third cut of silage because their first and second cuts were so big and with so much grass about, they will need lambs to graze it down," he added.

Alastair Logan, sheep auctioneer and operations manager at Caledonian Marts, Stirling, was also relatively optimistic for the forth coming sheep sales with ewe prices up £14 per head on the year and the overwhelming amount of grass which coupled with the early spring has bolstered daily liveweight gains in all types of livestock.

"Our finished lamb numbers are up 20% on the year with a lot less costs compared to last year," said Mr Logan. "The lamb trade is always a bit stale at this time of year, but there is a lot more optimism in the sector with the increase in the ewe trade, reduction in costs and the huge amount of grass about," concluded Mr Logan.