Sheep trade: Is a big logjam looming in sheep factories?

A huge cloud of uncertainty seems to have been cast over the sheep trade, as the impact of the coronavirus starts to take shape.

Quotes are hard to come by this week, with both Kildare Chilling and Irish Country Meats (ICM) not quoting for hoggets on Monday, March 23.

On the other hand, Kepak Athleague is unchanged from last week – quoting 560c/kg for hoggets.

Going by reports from meat processing facilities – as of Monday, March 23 – the sheep trade has collapsed, with factories already cancelling scheduled kills for this week.

A contact in one factory, in particular, said: “The system has crashed. Freezers are full at the moment; we have had to cancel our kill on Wednesday. The market is flooded at the moment and we can’t cope with the numbers of hoggets that are coming through.”

Other meat processing facilities have said they will only be killing a small number of sheep, with another factory saying that “the market has completely nose-dived”.

As of last Friday, farmers involved in producer groups were reportedly achieving prices of up to 590c/kg for hoggets. However, the way it’s looking now, these prices will be harder to come by.

Looking at the spring lamb trade, Irish Country Meats is quoting 650c/kg + 10c/kg quality assurance (QA) bonuses. A number of meat processing facilities have reported that they have received a ‘couple of enquiries’ from farmers regarding spring lambs, as we edge closer to Easter.

Both Kildare Chilling and Kepak Athleague were not quoting for spring lambs on Monday, March 23.

Quotes

This week, Irish Country Meats is quoting 650c/kg +10c/kg for spring lambs.

In terms of hoggets, Kepak Athleague (Monday quote) is offering a base price of 560c/kg + 15c/kg – no change on last week (payable up to a carcass of 22.5kg).

In addition, cast ewes are making 295-310c/kg in sheep processing plants (payable up to a carcass of 40kg).

Spring lamb quote:

  • Irish Country Meats: 650c/kg + 10c/kg QA.

Hogget quote:

  • Kepak Athleague: 560c/kg + 15c/kg QA.

Cast ewe quotes:

  • Kepak Athleague: 295c/kg;
  • Kildare Chilling: 300c/kg + 10c/kg QA;
  • Irish Country Meats: 300c/kg.

Throughput

During the week ending March 15, the number of hoggets processed increased by 5,681 head and amounted to 49,665.

Cast (ewe and ram) supplies at the Department of Agriculture approved sheep export plants stood at 5,482 – an increase of 252 – for the week ending March 15.

Week-on-week sheep kill supplies (week ending March 15):

  • Hoggets: 49,665 head (+5,681 or +12.9%);
  • Ewes and rams: 5,482 head (+252 or +4.8%);
  • Total: 55,147 head (+5,924 or + 4.04%).

Furthermore, overall supplies increased by 5,924 head during the week ending March 15.

Cumulative figures for the year-to-date have reached 551,260 head, which is an increase of over 71,000 head compared to the 2019 figure of 480,003.

Year-on-year sheep kill changes (week ending March 15):

  • Hoggets: 480,764 head (+82,474 or +21%);
  • Ewes and rams: 70,484 head (-11,227 or -14%);
  • Total: 551,260 head (+71,257 or +15%).

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