Irish sheep meat production in the first quarter of this year was up 12% on 2014 at 11,600t, according to EBLEX.

It says at 503,000 head, the Irish lamb kill in the first quarter of the year was up 5% on 2014 levels.

According to the EBLEX analysis of the latest figures this was largely the result of a carryover of lambs from 2014, following a notable uplift in the lamb crop on the back of the much better seasonal conditions than in the 2013/14 production year.

In addition, it says the better conditions experienced have allowed carcase weights to recover. This comes as carcase weights in early 2013 were much lower, following poor feeding conditions in 2012.

sheep kill

As a result these higher carcase weights have compounded the increase in lamb slaughter, it says.

Meanwhile, EBLEX also notes that following heavy culling in recent years, the number of adult sheep slaughtered in Ireland has fallen in the first three months of the year.

At 59,000 head, the adult sheep kill was down 18% on the year.

Lamb prices take a hammering

Sheep farmers have seen lamb prices nose dive in recent weeks with quotes falling by as much as 50c/kg last week.

According to Bord Bia, the sheep trade has slowed down recently on the back of reduced demand. It also reported the trade as relatively sluggish across our key export markets.

Last week base quotes for hoggets were making around €5.20/kg and early season spring lamb was making around €5.90/kg with selected lots achieving higher prices.

Prices paid for culled ewes were making around €3.00/kg.

Irish breeding flock numbers falling

Looking ahead, EBLEX says for the second consecutive year the Irish sheep breeding flock fell in December, despite a good year for producers, with the better lamb market and improved fodder situation.

It says breeding ewe numbers were at their lowest level since December 2010 and almost 40% below the level of December 2000.

Overall sheep numbers were unchanged in December, according to EBLEX, given the increased number of other sheep, mainly lambs, which are coming through the production cycle now.

However, it says the lower breeding flock would suggest a smaller lamb crop this year unless there is a significant improvement in the lambing rate.