Sheep trade: Reduced numbers clear the way for higher returns

A considerable tightening in spring lamb supplies has forced factory buyers to work that bit harder to secure numbers this week.

With tightening supplies comes the opportunity to seek higher returns prior to marketing lambs for slaughter. As it stands, base quotes are running at 450-460c/kg (excluding Quality Assurance bonuses).

However, deals are being struck at slightly higher prices and at least 5-10c/kg on top of base quotes is freely available to producer group members this week.

Factory buyers have also moved to provide some leeway when it comes to carcass weight limits and 22kg is now being paid by many processors to both producer group and non-producer group members.

Despite indications that the spring lamb market is strengthening, the ewe trade continues to remain difficult and base quotes are starting at 240c/kg this week.


Official figures show that sheep supplies eased significantly during the week ending September 30. In total, some 65,380 sheep were processed in Department of Agriculture approved sheepmeat export plants – a fall of 2,078 head on the previous week.

Throughput decreases were witnessed in the spring lamb and cast (ewe and ram) categories, but a small increase was witnessed in hogget slaughterings.

Week-on-week sheep kill changes (week ending September 30):
  • Hoggets: 119 head (+77 head or +183%);
  • Spring lambs: 51,798 head (-2,063 head or -3.8%);
  • Ewes and rams: 13,457 head (-95 head or -0.7%);
  • Total: 65,380 head (-2,078 head or -3.1%).

Moving on to the cumulative sheep kill, almost 2.2 million sheep have been processed up to and including the week ending September 30 this year.

As has been the case for a while now, hogget and cast slaughterings continue to run ahead of the quantities witnessed in 2017, but spring lamb numbers are down 22,227 head or 2% compared to the corresponding period in 2017.

Year-on-year sheep kill changes:
  • Hoggets: 828,802 head (+22,161 head or +3%);
  • Spring lambs: 991,709 head (-22,227 head or -2%);
  • Ewes and rams: 374,027 head (+55,442 head or +17%);
  • Total: 2,194,676 head (+54,706 head or +3%).