Recent figures, up to the end of May, show a further tightening of supplies of lambs coming from Northern Ireland (NI) to the Republic of Ireland for direct slaughter. The phrase 'tight supplies' rarely passes through the week without being mentioned - whether it's to do with beef or sheep - and no more so than this year, when all we seem to be hearing is how tight supplies are, in this case, with sheep. The reason why we are hearing it so much is because it's true, and the figures back it up. The hogget throughput up until the week ending June 6, was back nearly 90,000 head on the same period as last year. Spring lamb throughput has seen an increase on last year but not near enough to make up for the substantial drop-off in hogget throughput. Furthermore, ewe and ram throughput is back nearly 10,500 head from the same period as well.

The weather to date this year hasn't helped and it's definitely been a factor in not being able to get lambs finished quicker.

Other factors have also contributed to the tight supplies, such as more farmers choosing to hold onto more ewe lambs last year for breeding, as well as a larger kill seen in 2020, which saw more lambs being marketed earlier because of the strong prices.

Northern lambs sent down south

One factor, that was always brought to light in the past but has been in the spotlight less this year, is the number of lambs coming from the North to be processed in plants in the Republic of Ireland. The Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) last week, published figures on the number of lambs being sent for direct slaughter to plants in the south and it goes against the grain as to what we have generally seen in the past.

The latest figures show for the week ending May 29, there were 2,386 lambs exported from NI to the Republic for direct slaughter - which was back over 1,000 head from the previous week.

In the 12 weeks leading up to that date (week ending May 29) the total number of lambs sent for direct slaughter to plants in the Republic amounted to 35,591 head - which is a decrease of 28.8% from the same period in 2020. The LMC added that NI origin lambs accounted for 7.7% of the total lamb throughput in the Republic - which is back, albeit marginally, from 9.7% during the same period.