While 2020 has been a tough one for many, it has been an absolute flier for sheep farmers with the final week of the year witnessing prime lamb values up more than 20p per kg on previous sales at all live markets.

More importantly, prices are expected to hold up well after the first couple of weeks of January, when most producers sold the bulk of their lambs earlier than normal, and, before the December 31, EU transition deadline. The last minute free trade deal now on the table, also bolsters confidence to those on both sides of The Chanel.

United Auctions' prime event at Stirling on Sunday, kicked off the week's trading with a phenomenal sale for 6664 lambs which averaged 219.42p overall, with top prices of £124 per head and 295p per kg, while the 753 cast sheep sold to £160 for Texel ewes.

Averages improved on the Monday at Ayr, St Boswells, Carlisle and Lanark, too, albeit for smaller entries.

At Craig Wilson's Ayr mart, 1036 prime lambs cashed in at 228.7p with an SQQ of 235.2p while Harrison and Hetherington's St Boswells and Carlisle centres averaged 222p and 239p, per kg, respectively.

A larger show of 3071 lambs through Lawrie and Symington's Lanark market, cashed in at 233p, with an SQQ of 236p, while 2565 ewes were the dearest trade of the season selling up to £190 for a Texel.

"Prices were 20p per kg up on the same week last year due to increased demand from the continent," said Archie Hamilton, head sheep auctioneer at Lanark.

"A lot of farmers have sold their lambs earlier than normal in case there was no trade deal with the EU, but there has also been more demand from the continent this week, just in case the extra paperwork causes problems getting lamb into Europe in January.

"A free trade deal has given producers the confidence to continue, but there will be a bit of uncertainty surrounding exports during the first few weeks of 2021, until traders know what to expect," said Mr Hamilton.

Further south, Northumberland-based livestock agent Stephen Kirkup said trade is expected to be calmer in the first week of 2021 as exporters adjust to the system, the increased veterinary inspections and paperwork required. However, he remains confident demand for sheep meat will continue both on the home market and the continent.

"There has been a big push to get as many lambs as possible across to Europe, so while the big prices we have seen this week might not be sustained in the first week of the new year, numbers are a lot tighter than normal. We have seen a strong trade for lamb on the home market on the back of Covid-19 and that will continue as will the demand for sheepmeat on the continent," said Mr Kirkup.

"The big uncertainty now is the increased amount of paperwork and just how the new rules and regulations will be implemented to export lamb from January 1, onwards," he added.