“Compared to last year the sheep sector is in a much better position at this point,” according to Declan Fennell, sector manager for sheep at Bord Bia.

“There are two main reasons for this. Firstly prices are significantly higher than this time last year and secondly breeding flock is in a much better condition. Reports from scanners are indicating that litter sizes are up and that there are less barren ewes out there.”

He continued: “If spring conditions return to a more normal, compared to the difficult conditions last year the 2014 lamb crop will be up.”

“The carryover of hoggets into 2014 will be back on last year and this is a similar  pattern in the UK. We will also see less New Zealand lamb on the market due to supply problems there These factors point to prices remaining firm early in the year.”

However, Fennell cautioned that market demand has remained subdued. He said: “January can be a tough month. Consumers are often watching their pockets and the weather has been mild in our main markets, which has kept roasts and stews of the menus. People are cautious at the moment, but we are confident demand will match supply.”

Bord Bia noted in their recent market update that the sheep trade slowed down on the back of some weakening in demand on both domestic and key export markets.

It says quotes for lamb were back on last week, with prices ranging from between €4.50/kg to €4.60/kg. Prices paid for cull ewes remain unchanged, with prices continuing to make €2.00/kg.

Last week’s sheep kill was well down on the same week last year. The total weekly sheep kill was 42,089 this compares to 52,185 from the previous week, which represents a fall of some 19 per cent. Last week’s fall came on the back of a similar fall in the first week of 2014, which means cumulatively the sheep kill is so far 10 per cent behind 2013.

The number of lambs killed last week was 20,892 some 41 per cent down on the same week last year. In contrast Hogget numbers were high last week at 15,659 a significant 53 per cent increase on the same week last year.

The figure for ewe/ram slaughtering’s was 5,412, which is 17 per cent down on the same week last year.

Bord Bia cited in the UK, trade has improved slightly on the back of some tightening in supplies. It says live price for lambs in England and Wales were making the equivalent of around €4.60/kg deadweight by the end of the week.

In France, trade was under some pressure as a result of increased supplies of UK lamb onto the market. Prices for Irish Grade 1 lamb were making €4.72kg (inclusive of Vat) by the end of the week.

Fennell noted: “It is hard to say just yet how the spring lamb trade will go. At the moment prices are 30 to 40 cent higher than this time last year so we are starting off from a much better position.”

In terms of the UK market, which was down 29 per cent last year in terms of exports, he cited: “Most of our product was going into the manufacturing sector. Of late more UK product has been staying at home which has been a challenge for us.”

He concluded: “The UK is still an important market and we continue to focus on it. However he noted that other high potential markets in the EU are growing in importance for us including countries such as Germany, Belgium and Sweden.”