Reduced numbers, coupled with increased demand from local butchers, has bolstered prices for Scottish sheep meat, with values north of the Border for once actually higher than those in south for the early markets of this week.

Values in Scotland rose 5.6p and 11.9p per live kg on Monday and Tuesday, respectively with the first day of the week, witnessing an average price of 205.9p for 4782 head (-22.7% on the week). On Tuesday, some 1528 were cashed (-25.1%), to level at 206.8p.

In contrast, the live trade in England and Wales was below £2 per kg, with some 17,654 head cashed on Monday to average 196.9p, down 4.3p on the week, for 23.3% fewer. The trade slipped further on Tuesday with 13,565 sold at 191p (-5.0p), representing a fall of 33.4% from the previous seven days.

“Butchers have more than doubled their purchases when people are buying more local now and the supermarkets are struggling to meet consumer demand,” Archie Hamilton, head sheep auctioneer at Lawrie and Symington’s Lanark market, told The Scottish Farmer.

“Old season lambs are not the trade they were six weeks ago, but prices are holding up well and are likely to continue to when there are not the numbers left.

“There is also a good demand on the continent, so export and lightweight types are holding up. There is some resistance for the heavier hoggs though when we have lost the catering trade.”

At Lanark, Lawrie and Symington sold 2335 old season lambs to average 209p per kg overall with an SQQ of 215.5p.

Despite the onset of Ramadan, Mr Hamilton also remains confident the trade will hold up when numbers are falling, although there might be a slight lull in next couple of weeks, before prices rally again for the feast at the end of the fast.

Ewes he said however were not as easy sold, with fat ewes in particular proving difficult.

“The ewe trade is still good when we had Texel ewes at £178 on Monday and Blackies at almost £70 per head, it’s just not as good as what it was six weeks ago. What they don’t want now is fat ewes. They are the hardest to sell and will continue to be all summer.”

George Purves, managing director at United Auctions, was also confident for forth coming prime sheep sales.

“Our prime sales have been going well with strong demand for sheepmeat from the home and the export markets, although anything over 50kg is more difficult to sell purely because we don’t have the catering trade now.

“We still have our usual buyers looking for lambs from France, Germany and Belgium, so prices are holding up and should continue to when numbers are slipping now.”

Further north, Colin Slessor, deputy head of livestock at Aberdeen and Northern Marts, was equally hopeful prices would remain firm when numbers of old season lambs are diminishing and there are not yet the new season entries in any quantity.

“We had a great sale last week with a larger show of 3154 prime hoggs meeting an increased demand to average 204.5p with an SQQ of 220.1p per kg. We had all types of lambs, light, medium and heavyweights selling between £95-£100 per head,” he said.

“Numbers are starting to tighten though which should hopefully hold the trade although ewes have eased back and fat ewes are certainly more difficult as a result of Ramadan.”

Mr Slessor also highlighted the strong demand for breeding sheep, which on Tuesday met a flying trade.

“Ewes and lambs were an outstanding trade with 529 outfits forward and numbers way short of buyer’s requirements.”

He added that prices peaked at £81 per head with the average working out at £65 per life.

Most years, the sheep trade witnesses an increased demand for sheep meat at the end of Ramadan, however, with much of Europe still in lockdown sales could be more subdued.

AHDB believes there are likely to be fewer family gatherings to break the fast, which in turn will limit demand.

What form lockdown takes in both France and the UK in a month’s time will be key for how much demand Eid al-Fitr brings with it. If family celebrations are possible, then demand may well receive a much needed boost.

After Eid al-Fitr, the next big event is Eid al-Adha at the end of July, when Muslims look for lambs over six months of age for the Qurbani.