Despite the passing of the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival, prime ewe and lamb prices held up well at the early sales of this week, which coupled with increased demand for sheepmeat worldwide, is expected to result in a buoyant trade for all classes of sheep for the remainder of the year.

At the end of last week on the run up to the festival, average prices for prime lambs sold through Scottish markets were sitting around 230p per live kg – up 40-45p on the year, with values more or less expected to plummet at the start of the week.

However, nothing could be further from the truth, with some 8000 lambs being sold in markets north of the Border on Monday averaging 214.1p per kg – down 13.6p on the week, but still a good 30p up on the year.

Trade has been just as good south of the Border too, with just shy of 19,500 lambs sold on Monday to average 216.3p, while on Tuesday some 13,600 lambs were cashed through the live ring to level at 214.8p.

Ewe prices also remain firm with some auctioneers quoting values up on the previous week.

North of England livestock agent, Stephen Kirkup, is confident trade will remain firm for much of this year too and into 2021.

“Sheep are still a good trade with strong demand from throughout Europe and some of the Middle Eastern countries with the fall in the value of sterling,” said Mr Kirkup.

“All the signs point to a better than anticipated trade for the whole year and a more level trade throughout.

“Store lambs are up £10 per head plus and the first of the breeding sheep sales have seen prices rise £10-£15 per head for Texel and Suffolk cross females. We’re seeing more people either increase flock numbers or add sheep to their arable enterprises because they are seen as a safer option when barley yields are down and ex-farm prices are not as good as they have been.”

And, despite the expected increased lamb numbers following the good spring, he said more lambs are already out of the equation having been finished earlier than normal.

“Lambs did really well in that dry weather in May/June, and because the trade was good, a lot of people sold them a bit lighter, at 35kg compared to 40kg, rather than wait for the price to drop,” said Mr Kirkup, who sells anywhere from 5000-10,000 head of sheep per week, and cattle, throughout the whole of the UK.

Echoing these statements, Archie Hamilton, head sheep auctioneer at Lawrie and Symington’s Lanark Market added that there is an abundance of confidence in the sheep sector at present.

“Everything is looking good and the cupboards are bare which is a good thing going forward,” he said.

“Ewes have been a good trade all year and there have been more sold. Our ewe trade was up £10 per head on the week on Monday, with the 1388 head averaging just shy of £80, compared to £65 last year. Lambs are selling better than expected too after the festival, with our sale cashing in at 217p per live kg which compares to 177p at the same sale in 2019.

“Sheep are being moved on quicker with a lot of lambs sold at lighter weights and ewes have been sold earlier. There are also a lot of people looking to buy sheep either for finishing or breeding with the first of the store and breeding sheep sales south of the Border, up on the year,” added Mr Hamilton.

GB farmgate prices are also benefitting from significantly reduced imports from New Zealand. Historically just over half of New Zealand’s sheep meat exports were destined for the EU, however over the past decade this figure declined to around a quarter, with most of their lamb now heading to China and at increased values.

For example, lamb flap which used to sell for around NZ $2/kg (or around £1), is now being sold for circa $13/kg. Around a quarter of all NZ agricultural exports in value terms are now destined for China. Such is New Zealand’s reliance on China that the NZ treasury has issued a warning about relying upon one market too much.

While it is clear the outbreak of African Swine Fever is having some impact on the global sheep meat market, some of the rises can also be attributed to long term growth in sheep meat demand in China. Tightening global supply, is also supporting prices.