Welsh Country Foods, the lamb abattoir and processor based at Gaerwen, Anglesey, plans to open a series of large collection centres for lamb across the UK.

The first of the new centres – each of which will aim to procure about 1000 lambs a week – has opened near Stoneybeck, just north of Penrith, Cumbria. Others are planned for northern England then eventually across the UK.

The need for greater supply is due to increased demand from retailer Asda as well as contracts to supply foreign markets.

WCF, which is a member of the Grampian Country Food Group, is the sole supplier of fresh lamb to retailer Asda and processes about 1.5m lambs a year.

James Thompson, who owns the collection centre at Stoneybeck just off J41 of the M6, will join the company as procurement officer with responsibility for sourcing livestock in the Eden area.

All lambs collected from the Eden area will be sent direct to Angelsey for slaughter and those meeting the Asda LambLink specifications will then go on to be supplied to the retailer.

In addition many lightweight lamb carcasses will go to Mediterranean markets.

Ewes and rams will also be handled.

Since the creation of the Asda LambLink scheme in 2002 more than 4500 British farmers have joined the scheme, which offers a free grading service and free collection from farms.

Lambs graded either E, U, R 2/3L in the 15-21kg bracket receive a 1 a head bonus payment.

Farmers also receive an additional 15p/kg for E grades and 8p/kg for U grades.

NFU livestock board chairman Thomas Binns welcomed the news.

“It’s not unusual for lambs from the north-west to be sent into Welsh abattoirs, so the new collection centre is an encouraging commitment and signals a more formal arrangement.

It will add a welcome new dynamic to the market for north-west farmers.”

It was also encouraging that light lambs under 15kg would have an export market into the Mediterranean.

“This will come as good news for hill farmers both in Wales and the north-west.”

andrew.watts@rbi.co.uk