Current euro exchange rate uncertainties make it more important than ever to finish store lambs at the right specification for the market to ensure the best returns, warns EBLEX, the industry body for beef and lamb levy payers.
Tight lamb supplies globally and strong demand for sheep meat from mainland Europe mean UK market prices, which depend so fundamentally on exports at this time of the year, are likely to hold-up well in the immediate term.
However, recent exchange rate volatility is likely to make export buyers more cautious and discerning, putting the premium on lambs of precisely the right weight and finish for the markets they serve.
While continental export markets have a wide range of specifications, it is important to appreciate that market options for lamb carcases decline markedly at weights of over 21 kg and classifications beyond 3L for fat. Under these circumstances, holding onto store lambs for too long in pursuit of improving spring prices and extra weight is likely to be more risky than ever this season.
The fact that most of the weight gain in heavier lambs is in the form of fat, which takes markedly more energy to put on than muscle, makes the risk of keeping stock too long particularly high. Especially so with the very tight margins involved in most finishing systems.
A smaller eye muscle area than either cattle or pigs means lambs can very quickly become overfat. This and the notorious difficulty of predicting store lamb performance makes it vital to handle stock frequently to assess the level of finish – at least every fortnight and then every week as they approach market quality.
At the same time, marking representative groups of stock and weighing them every 7 to 14 days provides a useful extra check on progress. This can be particularly valuable in presenting the even batches of lambs by both weight and finish that buyers prefer.
Regardless of their weight, once lambs are fit across the loin they should be marketed as soon as possible, advises EBLEX, suggesting producers attend a practical ‘live to dead’ event to hone their selection and handling skills.
Up-to-date market intelligence is a further key to ensuring the best returns from store lambs. This can be secured through regular communication with livestock markets and abattoir procurement staff and by using the EBLEX on-line deadweight and auction market price reporting service.
Details of EBLEX events and other practical guidance on store lamb finishing and selection for slaughter can be obtained from www.eblex.org.uk or by calling 0870 241 8528.
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