Processors have been slow to move up weight limits for lambs in Northern Ireland, similar to what has been seen in the Republic of Ireland.

The Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) has said that the seasonal changeover to paying for heavier lamb carcasses this year has been later than in previous years, with factories quoting up to 22kg during late-October last year.

Northern Irish processors have said that the increase in availability of lambs for slaughter in the last number of weeks is down to producers feeding less meal, coupled with slow grass growth during the dry spell, which slowed down the number of finished lambs coming on stream during the summer months.

The average carcass weight during the six-week period up the week ending November 12, was 21.5kg. This is up from the previous six-week period, reflecting the quality of lambs coming forward for slaughter, according to the LMC.

The LMC said: “The strong carcass weights and availability of heavy lambs explains the delay in local processors increasing the upper weight limit.

“The shift in the upper weight limit to 22kg occurs to encourage better fleshed lambs during the winter months when grass supplies are tighter and more traditional breeds of lambs are slaughtered.

“These breeds are typically leaner sheep from upland areas which have been sold as stores and finished on lowland farms.

“While producers are encouraged to produce lambs as close to 22kg as possible, they are also reminded not to exceed this level as lambs heavier than this will provide no additional return.”

Lamb trade

Quotes for R3-grade lambs ranged from 505-510p/kg this past week up to a 22kg carcass weight.

Next week, base quotes of 515p/kg are expected across factories.

Supplies of lambs in Northern Ireland in recent weeks have been strong, the LMC said, with 63,939 lambs processed by the three factories during the last six-week period.

This is an increase of 11,884 head compared to the corresponding period of 2021, and is also ahead of 2020 levels by 653 head.