Prime lamb values are holding up remarkably well with the live trade up a massive 35-45p per kg on the year which in turn is adding value down the line in the store ring and breeding sectors.

This time last year, most centres were achieving averages of just below 200p per live kg, whereas values have remained well ahead of that figure for all of 2021 with lows of 214-215p just two weeks previous.

However, with a good number of lambs already cashed in the good summer weather, and slaughterhouses requiring numbers to ensure plants maintain throughputs when labour is scarce, and farmers are being rewarded for anything well finished.

Such is the demand that the early markets of this week averaged above 235p per kg, with Ayr cashing in at 238p; Lanark at 240p and St Boswells at 245p.

“Our sale on Monday was 41p per live kg up on the year at Lanark and that was for the same number sold,” said Archie Hamilton, head sheep auctioneer at Lawrie and Symington.

“It has been such a good summer that lambs have thrived with many selling earlier than normal for the home and the export market. I also think the processors have already started stockpiling for the Christmas market.

My Hamilton added that heavier lambs are also selling well with 48-50kg entries making £135-£140 per head provided they are well finished.

“We’ve maintained our numbers throughout the year and because of the good weather, I don’t think there will be a surplus of lambs especially when you see store lambs up £10-£15 on 2020 values at this time and the ewe trade has been up £10-£16 per head for most of this year,” said Mr Hamilton.

With grass growth falling away now as the weather deteriorates and the days become shorter, Colin Slessor, deputy head auctioneer at Aberdeen and Northern Marts, said the emphasis for selling prime lambs has to be on flesh.

“There is no point selling a poorly finished lamb in the prime ring. At this time of year, it’s better to either sell them through the store ring or finish them properly with a bit of feeding,” he said.

“We’ve been selling prime lambs up to 50kg for £125-£130 but the quality of lambs coming forward now is definitely mixed with the quality of the grass diminishing.”

In saying that, he too remains optimistic for the sheep trade for the remainder of the year when store lambs are up £10 per head on 2020 values and the finishers are happy to pay that money.

“The good thing is the sheep farmers in the Highlands and the islands are getting the benefit of increased store lamb values, with many longer keep entries selling for £90 per head, but these lambs have to make somewhere in the region of £130 in February/March to make it pay for the finishers,” he said.

Overall, auction market throughputs have been significantly below expectations, even when allowing for a smaller lamb crop.

Figures from AHDB show that throughputs have been down by as much as a quarter in some weeks.

Look towards Christmas and there could be tightness in the market due to a lack of New Zealand lamb. Most years, New Zealand would expect six or seven ships to dock to deliver to the UK in time for the Christmas chilled market. This year however, there are just three expected including one that will not reach the UK until days before Christmas.