Store lambs are on the crest of a wave, riding on the 'surf' created by high prime values with prices are up as much as £16 per head on the year, and likely to be maintained, according to those in the know – despite the slip in the prime market over the past 10 days.

At United Auctions’ first two sales at Stirling, prices have been up anywhere from £6.60 to £16, and those south of the Border have seen similar improvements on the back of a much improved prime market for both old and new season lambs, over the year.

Beltex and Texel cross lambs as expected have been commanding the best of the prices, with the first sale at UA witnessing the two breed crosses averaging £87.39 and £88.45 per head, respectively, followed by Suffolks at £87.25 and Cheviot Mules at £81.64.

On Monday, averages were again up on the year, albeit slightly less than the first week, and at up to £13 per head; with the same three breeds topping the averages league – Suffolks at £83.41; Beltex at £82.91 and Texels at £82.02.

"Our opening store lamb sales started with confidence following the good returns from last year’s purchases,” said George Purves, managing director at United Auctions, who added that he hoped to see similar increases on the year at next week’s opening sales at Lairg, Oban and Tiree.

Skiption Auction Mart’s second store lamb sale of the season, which saw 5305 come under the hammer, also met a strong trade to average £84.64, up £9.39 on the year and that was for a larger portion of younger, smaller and crossed lambs.

Add in an abundance of grass in most places, the expectation of a reduced lamb crop following the horrendous weather in May and potential for another year of inflated lamb values in the spring of 2022, and finishers do appear willing to fork out big money for lambs.

Prime lambs have, however, slipped significantly this week, with some centres seeing values lower than those of this time last year. On Monday, finished lambs sold through Scottish auction marts fell a massive 35.4p per live kg, to level at 220.1p and for a significantly reduced number. There was a similar trade on Tuesday which averaged 220.6p, down 25.6p on the week and again, for a fall in numbers.

Prices are back similar amounts south of the Border too, albeit with the average some 6-8p per kg higher than those in Scotland.

“The ewe trade has held up all year, but lamb prices are back down to where they were last year and in some places are lower than the same time in 2020,” said Archie Hamilton, head sheep auctioneer at Lawrie and Symington.

“I don’t envisage the lamb trade going any lower, but a lot depends on how lambs are sold. Well-finished lambs scaling 44-48kg are coming to the best money, but they’ve got to have cover on them. There is no point in selling them lean at this weight at a prime sale and selling finished lambs at a store sale,” he added.

Despite the recent drop in prime values, he does though expect store lambs to continue selling at least £10 per head above last year’s values.

Dingwall and Highland Marts’ auctioneer, Rod MacKenzie, also predicted store lamb prices to be ahead of 2020 for their first sale today (Friday), at Dingwall.

“All indications are that prices will be up, but there might not be the strength of lambs when there is a lot of variation in them as a result of the weather,” he said.

“This year has been really challenging for sheep producers with a cold wet May and then an extremely dry June and July, which saw grass get away on some people and cattle and sheep often thrive better on less.

“Grazing conditions have been quite challenging and livestock is often said to do better on grass that is ‘no less than a matchbox on the flat and no more than a matchbox on its edge’.”

Nevertheless, with prime lambs being a good trade for most of the year and still selling above £5 per kg deadweight, he said there was still plenty of optimism in the market.

Mr MacKenzie added that prime values dropped to 225p per kg at Dingwall, on Tuesday, and urged producers not to sell lambs under 43kg at a fat sale. “Lambs have to be well finished to sell at a prime sale and if they’re under 43kg they won’t kill out the best,” he concluded.