October 2, 2008

Careful Lamb Finishing to Avoid Spring Glut

S tore lamb finishing over the coming winter in the Westcountry should be carefully planned to minimise the level of late-spring slaughterings for the greatest market stability.

That is the advice from specialists at Eblex, following a study of lamb returns over the past two contrasting seasons.

One of the main factors contributing to the particularly poor prices seen in 2007 was a glut of hoggets held through to April and May.

Total slaughterings, which were around 15 per cent up on the 2002 to 2006 average in these months, were accompanied by market prices a good 12 per cent down on the same period, at around 250p per kilo deadweight.

In marked contrast, 2008 spring slaughterings far more in line with the long-term average contributed to less downward pressure on the market, helping prices climb to an historic peak of just under 400ppk deadweight in late May.

While the level of late-spring marketings was not the only reason for the very much better returns of 2008, it clearly played a valuable part in ensuring a more favourable supply and demand balance, stressed Eblex sheep scientist, Dr Liz Genever.

She said: "With this experience, we strongly urge all producers to plan their finishing to ensure they get store lambs away earlier again next year. It invariably pays to market lambs when they are ready, rather than holding on to them too long.

"This is especially so with the poorer prices almost always paid for heavy lambs and the far greater year-on-year price variations generally seen in the late spring."

Dr Genever said the value of spreading the finishing period by buying different types and weights of stock should not be under- estimated either, both in maintaining income flow and in minimising the risk from short-term market fluctuations.

As well as budgeting production in advance to establish the break- even selling price required with a reasonable estimate of cost per day on farm, she set out a five-point plan of action for farmers. She said producers should:

Source lambs of the correct weight for the specific system to finish to planned targets

Follow a clear health plan, keeping mortality rates down to two per cent through good husbandry

Weigh all lambs on arrival, group them by weight and degree of finish, and re-weigh a proportion every two weeks to monitor progress

Make the best use of home-grown forage crops or arable byproducts, introducing concentrates carefully as forage supplies decline and before lamb growth rates suffer

Select clean lambs carefully for slaughter to meet key market requirements - E, U or R carcasses of fat class 2-3L at 17 to 21 kilos for the UK, and 12 to 19 kilos for export.

Specific Action for Profit fact sheets setting out key management guidelines and performance standards for store lambs are available free of charge to English levy payers at www.eblex.org.uk.

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.