The first thing to notice this week is that the factory price table below is more or less complete.
After almost a month away Dawn Ballyhaunis are back with a full complement of quotes, while Kepak Athleague, who have also been on the missing list for some time, offer quotes for springs and culls.
The ICM plants lift their quote for springs by 10c/kg to €6.00/kg plus 10c/kg QA, in line with Dawn. Kepak also resume on €6.00/kg, with a 15c/kg quality bonus.
Kildare Chilling are unchanged at the head of the pack on €6.10 + 10c/kg QA.
Kildare also remain the best payers for hogget, on €5.40+10c/kg, and for culls - still on €2.70/kg plus bonuses
The ICM plants raised their offer for culls by 10c to €2.50/kg.
At the start of this month some on the factory side were predicting a difficult time in the run-up to the end of Ramadan on May 28.
We were told one week that Covid restrictions could impact family reunions, while the following week the story being circulated was that "a flood" of British sheepmeat was endangering the whole French market.
Whether true or not Irish sheep prices have held fairly steady.
Indeed, mart prices have strengthened of late as factory buyers tussle to get adequate supplies.
Stephen Hannon of Mohill in Leitrim averaged springs at €2.90/kg last week but told me he expects that price to harden further this week.
IFA sheep chairman Sean Dennehy concurred: "Factories are actively looking for lamb to fill retail orders and are paying from €6.20-6.30/kg," he said.
Sean McNamara of ICSA was a bit more colourful, saying: "Factories have their tongues out for lamb."
He's also a bit stronger on where he thinks the price will be at as we go forward: "I expect €6.40 to be paid with €6.50 possible," he said.
With supplies of hoggets easing back, their on-the-ground price remains around the €5.60/kg mark, with some quality lots reported to be averaging €5.70/kg.
While demand from the factories for cull ewes appears to a bit lethargic, the wholesale market continues to keep some sort of floor under the price at the marts.
North of the border lamb prices continue to strengthen with this week's factory price expected to range from €5.61-5.73/kg - up from a base of €5.40/kg two weeks ago.
Bord Bia's latest market report ending May 9 shows what many in the sheep sector accept: that Irish factory prices are performing well.
The dead-weight Irish factory price for lambs was ahead of anything on offer in the UK or Spain at €5.54/kg.
Although the Covid crisis has affected the French market, lamb there continues to much sought-after: it continues to float around the €6.50/kg mark.
The short-term outlook remains positive, although after May 28, I suspect we will have to once again wade through the fact and fiction section to get market returns from the factories.
Last week’s assembly sale saw spring lambs peak at €133/hd for 50.7kgs with 61.7kg hoggets hitting €128/hd.
Other prices of note among the lambs included 51.3kgs at €131/hd, 45kgs at €129/hd and 42.8kgs at €127/kg.
Cast ewes sold from €82-130/hd, while ewes with singles at foot sold up to €135/hd and those with doubles saw a top call of €255/hd.
“I think the trade for store lambs will firm up come July. Especially as those who bought last year made a few pound,” said Neilius McAuliffe.
For the present Neilius is moving spring lambs at €2.70-2.80/kg, while heavy culls sold from €77-80/hd.
Jim Bushe reported reasonable numbers with both factory and wholesale customers keen to fill orders.
Sample prices among the spring lambs saw 44kgs setting a top of €133/hd, with 45kgs making €131/hd.
Quality matters but so also do numbers with one batch of thirty 40kg lambs netting their owner €3,810 at €127/hd.
Heavy cast ewes sold from €95-144/hd, but numbers of lighter culls were small.
With factory prices for sheep effectively holding, Patsy Smith noted “an edginess” among buyers to close out deals.
This helped those selling see the general run of spring lambs average from €125-142/hd, with one batch weighing 51.5/kg making €143/hd.
On the hogget side among the top performers were a batch of thirty-six that averaged €135/hd, while the best of the breeding hoggets saw €145/hd.
Cull ewes sold in general from €90-125/hd, with heavier types topping out at €138/hd.
This live weigh-in saw Stephen Hannon moving spring lambs at an average of €2.90/kg.
However, Stephen expects to see that price harden further this week as steady to improving factory prices feed back along the chain.
Hoggets sold up to €2.45/kg, putting those at 53kg into €130/hd.
On the cull ewe side prices are negotiated by hand and ranged from €70-120/hd.
A good turnout of sheep saw spring lambs remain steady, while there was good demand for both ewe hoggets and heavy stags.
Lighter ewes were easier, however.
Sample prices among the lambs included twelve at 40kg making €115.50/hd, with three at 47kg averaging €136/hd, while ten 45.5kg lambs saw €131/hd.
On the ewe hogget side five at 45kg sold for €130/hd, with ten at 54kg/hd making €154/hd. Stag ewes sold from €70-125/hd.
Young ewes with singles at foot sold from €180-220/hd, while those with doubles made €222-258/hd.