The sheep trade has come under further pressure this week, with factories reducing base quotes by 10c/kg to 15c/kg.

Kildare Chilling is quoting a base of €6.90/kg plus its 10c/kg quality assurance (QA) bonus, while the two ICM plants are quoting a base of €6.75/kg plus 10c/kg QA.

Regular sellers and producer groups trading at the higher end of the market had been securing returns of €7.20/kg to €7.30/kg earlier in the week, with the majority of lambs trading from €7.00/kg upwards, even where traded from producers with negligible negotiating power.

Top prices reported for Thursday have slipped back to €7.10/kg to €7.20/kg, with these confined to producer groups (including conformation bonuses and allowances on transport) or specialist finishers. The higher prices are now also being linked more forcefully to carcase weight.

Producer groups delivering overweight carcases face price penalties of 10c/kg 20c/kg, depending on their payment schedule, with overweight and overfat lambs suffering cuts of 40c/kg to 50c/kg.

Some factories are threatening to introduce similar cuts, particularly to producers trading at the higher end of the market, while Kildare is quoting a maximum of €150/head for carcases over 25kg.

The issue with heavy carcases is being exacerbated by staff shortages caused by COVID-19. Lighter carcases give the option of trading full carcases, which reduces the pressure on boning hall capacity.

Cull ewes are a steady trade, with quotes at a base of €3.20/kg, with significant numbers traded by producers in small numbers from €3.25/kg to €3.30/kg and top prices ranging from €3.40/kg to €3.50/kg.

The trade in Northern Ireland is facing the same pressure, with quotes 10p/kg lower.

Plants are quoting a base of £5.60/kg, which is the equivalent of €6.71/kg at an exchange rate of 83.4p to the euro.

Regular sellers are securing 10p/kg to 15p/kg (£5.75/kg equivalent to €6.89/kg) higher, with agents purchasing for southern plants also active in mart sales.

The number of sheep imported from Northern Ireland for direct slaughter in southern plants finished 2021 at 320,474 head, a reduction of 58,274 on 2020 levels.

The number of sheep exported to Britain for direct slaughter increased by 20,038 head to reach 332,157, while throughput in Northern plants of 460,033 head was 6,618 lower.

The latest Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) price report shows lambs in Britain averaging £6.14/kg last week.

This week’s prices are reported as ranging anywhere from £5.90/kg to £6.05/kg, depending on region.