While the world obsesses about the coronavirus, there was nothing sick about the sheep trade yesterday.
Factory quotes for hogget saw Kepak Athleague move up 5c/kg to €5.70+15c/kg, with the bonus for quality assured lambs (QA). This increase brought Kepak's base price in line with Dawn Ballyhaunis and the two ICM plants. Table-toppers Kildare Chilling also remain unchanged at €5.80+10c/kg (QA).
Kepak also broke cover on the cull ewe front as they added 5c/kg, bringing their quote to €3.05/kg, 5c/kg better than the competition, all of whom remain entrenched on a base of €3/kg.
With the exception of a comment about heavy sheep "clogging up the system", most of those I spoke with yesterday on the factory side appeared content with where the trade is at.
The reality is that factories are not paying for extra carcase weight over 23kg, so it doesn't really make sense to be giving them free meat.
Having discussed this in detail with various plants I got the immortal reply from one man: "I know all about that but we're not penalising lads either."
Looking more long-term, one agent did comment that it was unclear how many sheep were "in the background".
As has been said before supplies in the UK have dwindled to the point where they no longer present a serious problem going into France, so whatever is in the background here should find a home.
That said, the euro has weakened in recent weeks against the pound, trading yesterday at 87p to the pound, up four cents from two weeks ago. Another factory man with a possible eye to dampening expectations said that at €5.90-6.00/kg, there was "nothing wrong with the price".
With regard to the coronavirus outbreak, the belief among the factories is that it may lead "to a slowdown as opposed to a shutdown" in exports.
On the mart front the trade continues to perform strongly. Nelius McAuliffe of Dingle mart said: "Sheep men are getting money. It's been a great first two months."
Michael Harty of Nenagh agreed, saying: "Those who had the courage to buy stores early on are now getting a great turn."
Michael did add: "The constant wet and cold is very hard on sheep that are being fed outside."
However, with factory hoggets pushing on to €130/hd at marts and heavy cull ewes €140-150/hd, most sheep men won't complain too much I suspect.
On the ground both the IFA and the ICSA reported hoggets as making from €6.0-6.10/kg yesterday, with cull ewes generally on €3.10-3.20/kg.
Returning to the issue of supplies, indications are that factories are just about getting enough to stay ahead of the posse without having to push the price of hoggets immediately further.
However, the ICSA's Sean reckoned supplies were very tight when I spoke to him yesterday, partially due to the weather, with many outside-fed sheep not thriving to their full potential.
Although trade here didn't quite hit the heights of the previous week - when eight 54kg hoggets sold for €141/hd - it was still strong, with the best of the hoggets seeing €130/hd. The continuing demand from factories for cull ewes saw prices maintained, with €130/hd again the top call as culls averaged €80-130/hd.
Michael Harty made an obvious but often overlooked, comment about the effect bad weather has on sheep: "The constant wet and cold is awful on sheep out." Indeed it is, and it causes stress to both man and beast. Hopefully as March progresses things will improve.
On the prices front Michael reported that the tops of the hoggets and cull ewes both averaged €140/hd. What of the store trade? "Those who had the courage to buy stores early on are now getting a great turn," Michael said.
"Sheep men are getting money. It's been a great first two months," said Nelius McAuliffe of the sheep trade this year. Saturday's sale saw 48kg hoggets securing the top call of €135/hd among a good turnout. On the breeding side in-lamb ewes sold from €125-150/hd, with the best of the Scotch ewes seeing a batch of three-year-olds averaging €130/hd.
Despite the miserable weather, numbers of sheep were up here last week as prices maintained. Store lambs sold from €78-112/hd, with demand from factory buyers seeing factory hoggets average €115-128/hd.
Cull ewes sold from €75-131/hd, while ewes carrying twins sold to a top of €185/hd.
A large sale with prices holding steady as 50kg+ hoggets sold from €136-145/hd. With plenty of men keen to buy feeding stock 32-35kg ewes made €93-105/hd, 36-40kg averaged €105-118/hd, with heavier lots selling from €116-130/hd.
The cast ewe trade was on fire with 60-90kgs making €90-135 while very forward fleshed ewes north of 100kg sold from €128-145/hd, with one lot making €152/hd.