Despite the disruption Covid-19 caused farmers last year, the one bright thing to come out of 2020 was the flying mart trade for all classes of sheep.

2020 was an unusually, very strong year for sheep, with prices for lambs holding strong right through the year for the most part, unlike other years, where prices would often start off strong and gradually decline as the year went on.

However, the mart trade has been consistently strong throughout 2020, with breeding sheep catching the eye late in the summer heading into autumn.

Special breeding sales and general breeding sales at marts exceeded expectations and saw many records smashed at various breed sales.

Hoggets and ewe lambs, in particular, caught the eye with farmer demand very strong. Mart managers reporting on breeding sales at their respective marts said that prices for ewe lambs were stronger by as much as €10/head, while hogget prices were €15-20/head better than 2019.

Mart managers were regularly reporting highs of €200/head and more in some cases for hoggets at normal weekly sales, with average prices of €170-185/head being achieved on a consistent basis.

Additionally, ewe lamb prices at special sales were also stronger by €15-20/head in many cases.

Another highlight of 2020 has been the consistently strong store lamb price. Sean McNamara, the sheep chairperson of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), noted that you won’t have much change out of €100 for a good store lamb and that was the case for much of 2020.

Speaking to various mart managers over the course of 2020, the general consensus was that lamb prices were stronger by €10-15/head on average on 2019 levels.

Heavy lamb prices were strong throughout 2020; however, towards the latter part of 2020, especially when the second lockdown came into play in November, prices for those heavy butcher lambs took off.

Prices rose from €116-120/head up to €130-134/head in the space of a couple of weeks. Factory lambs were also met with a fierce trade, with highs of €125-127/head being achieved for 47-48kg lambs in the latter part of 2020.

All in all, in terms of prices, 2020 was a good year and it gave a renewed confidence in what was a struggling sector and in many cases is still a very low-income sector to be involved in.

However, if the Teagasc Outlook for 2021 is anything to go by, then 2021 could be an even better year for sheep farmers and hopefully it is.