Store lamb finishing over the coming winter should be carefully planned to minimise the level of late spring slaughterings for the greatest market stability, advises EBLEX Ltd, the industry body for beef and lamb levy-payers in England 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 old season lambs held through to April and May. Total slaughterings some 15% up on the 2002-2006 average in these months were accompanied by market prices a good 12% down on the same period at around 250p/kg 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 400p/kg 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/demand balance.
With this experience EBLEX strongly urges all producers to plan their finishing to ensure they get store lambs away earlier again next year, pointing out that it invariably pays to market lambs when they are ready rather than holding on to them too long. 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.
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, EBLEX advises producers to:
- 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 2% 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 by-products, 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 carcases of fat class 2-3L at 17-21 kg for the UK and 12-19 kg for export.
Specific Action for Profit fact sheets setting out key management guidelines and performance standards for short, medium and long keep store lambs are available free of charge to English levy payers at www.eblex.org.uk.
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