Sheep farmers in the south-west of England have been shocked by the prospect of losing a quarter of the region’s slaughtering capacity after one of the largest processors in the West Country announced it would no longer handle lambs.

The announcement that Lloyd Maunder, based at Willand, Devon, is to cease lamb slaughtering on 24 February came as a huge blow to its 1500 farmer suppliers and the 180 staff who will be made redundant.

The firm processed about 10,000 lambs a week, but after J Sainsbury terminated a contract for about two-thirds of them last October, it struggled to find sustainable new outlets.

The news has left some West Country farmers furious. “It’s an absolute disaster,” said Keith Morish, who supplied the processor with 2000 lambs a year during a 25-year business relationship.

“We’ve lambed 600 ewes since mid-November. We’ll have 1000 lambs ready to market from 1 March. I reckon they might now have to go as far as Kepak in Lancashire to secure a decent price.

It could cost me 10,000 in lost weight and condition during transport and the extra haulage cost itself.”

Norman Kellaway of Brinsworthy Farm, North Molton, supplied about 500 lambs a year to Lloyd Maunder. “We’re not sure where they will go now. Although we do have other abattoirs in the region, some might end up going to Wales.”

Instead of carting his lambs into the abattoir Mr Kellaway said he would now have to send them further afield in a mixed lorryload, at a cost of at least £1/head.

“I am also concerned that prices will fall because of the reduced competition – Lloyd Maunder always had quality lamb and paid a good premium for it.”

Anthony Gibson, south-west director of the NFU, agreed there was not enough capacity in the region to make up for the loss of Lloyd Maunder’s operations.

“There isn’t much doubt that a lot of lambs will be going out of the region, which is bad news for the whole economy.” The loss of exports through the firm was also of great concern, he said.

Director Richard Maunder said: “This is a sad and difficult day for all of us, particularly the many staff, farmers and customers who have had a relationship with the company, in some cases over three generations.”

St Merryn Foods Ltd, part of the Grampian Country Food Group with plants in Cornwall and Wales, is calling for South West & South Wales lamb producers who previously supplied
the Lloyd Maunder lamb business to contact their ‘Premier Lamb’ business in Cornwall or their South Wales, Merthyr Tydfil plant.

Lloyd Maunder plans to reinvest in its expanding poultry, processed meat and sausage businesses.