Prime sheep values remain at record levels for the time of year and jumped again this week as reduced numbers in the supply chain combined with increased demand during lockdown began to bite.

Prices rose a massive 16p per live kg on the week in Scotland on Monday, to average 265.7p for 5503 head which is a 5.3% increase in numbers on the previous seven days, while the SQQ increased 15.7p to level at 269.8p.

It was a similar situation on Tuesday too with 3579 head selling through Scottish auction marts to level at 264.4p, which represents a rise of 15.1p on the week, with an SQQ of 266.4p, up 13.7p.

Values are just as high south of the Border too despite a near 50% increase in numbers. On Monday, 17,432 head sold to average 262.5p, which represents a rise of 12.4p, with the SQQ balancing out at 268.8p.

On Tuesday, prices increased further in England and Wales to average 263.6p, with the SQQ at 269.6p, up 11.3p and 12.1p per kg respectively, and again for increased numbers on the week.

“This is the same week last year that the sheep trade started to rise, but I have never in 40plus years as an auctioneer, seen prime values as high as these at this time of year,” said Ally Logan, head sheep auctioneer at Caledonian Marts, Stirling.

“Prices took a bit of a knock two weeks ago when there was a big increase in the numbers coming forward, but it settled itself out and the trade has been picking up every day since.

“This time last year prices increased from 210-215p to 230p per live kg and peaked at around 250p just before lockdown. Two weeks ago, we were selling lambs to average 240p which increased to 250p last week and on Tuesday, Caledonian Marts’ sale levelled at 267p,” said Mr Logan.

He added however, that numbers forward were down on last year’s figures both in the store and the fat rings by about 200 head.

“This week was the first time we’ve had numbers below 1000 head for a prime sale, but then that’s because the lambs have already been sold. Store numbers coming forward are also down as farmers have been selling them when the trade has remained buoyant throughout the year.”

In contrast, the cast trade has seen increased numbers forward as flockmasters look to improve levels of efficiency by selling all yeld sheep including gimmers when in previous years they would have given the younger sheep a second chance.

As a result, Mr Logan expects grit ewes to meet an increased demand when the prime trade continues on a high and especially when Easter falls in April and Ramadan runs from April into May.

“There’s no reason why prime lamb values won’t keep rising as the trade is all about supply and demand and there are just not the numbers out there – especially south of the Border.

“Our store lamb sale on Monday would have been £20 per head up on the year, and most of those sold into the south for finishing as a result,” he said.

Backing up these statements, Archie Hamilton, head sheep auctioneer at Lawrie and Symington’s Lanark market said farmers are at long last getting the message and taking control of their own trade by selling through the live ring instead of deadweight.

Add to that the reduced numbers, the continued lockdown and both store and prime values are well up on the year.

“It’s all down to supply and demand and the numbers are just not there. We’ve also seen the butchers busy all year because more people are staying at home and buying locally to cook at home which all helps the sheep trade.

“Lamb prices are back up at where we were two weeks ago at 270p per live kg, which is 37p per kg up on the year,” concluded Mr Hamilton.

Future values are expected to remain positive for the remainder of the year too when UK sheep meat production is set to fall by about 4% in 2021 to 285,000 tonnes, according to AHDB, which claims total lamb throughput is forecast at 12.5m head, 4% below 2020 levels. Imports and exports are both expected to contract slightly.