As grass growth begins to tail off, producers who have been tempted to keep store lambs back will need to think carefully about the economics of finishing.
Low store prices will see some breeders finish their own lambs this autumn and winter, believes independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings.
“But with grass growth and quality now starting to tail off, lambs are likely to need supplementary feeds to ensure growth rates are maintained.
These lambs should be kept growing and moving forward.”
However, lambs must be sold at the correct weight to avoid price penalties, says Thetford, Norfolk, lamb finisher Andrew Foulds.
“I’m currently fattening store lambs on turnips and Italian Ryegrass, but those hitting 21kg are sold straight away to prevent discounts on heavier lambs,” he says.
Mr Foulds reckons that although store lambs appear cheap this autumn, they haven’t been cheap enough compared with finished prices.
Supermarkets may find they have to pay more than 2.50-2.60/kg next spring if they want their hungry gaps filled.
“It’s time large-scale finishers were offered fixed price contracts.
At least that way we would know where we stand throughout the year,” adds Mr Foulds, who finishes about 10,000 lambs a year.
But finishing lambs is not for everyone and the enterprise should be fully costed.
Set targets according to what store lambs are worth and what price finished lambs are likely to receive, says Better Returns Project manager Chris Lloyd.
“Producers thinking about holding back lambs to finish will have to start thinking about costs on a pence a day and pence a week basis.”
He advises looking back at finished price trends over the past two years to get an idea of how economic finishing lambs will be.
For farms with plenty of grass available lambs should be offered some whole cereal to maintain growth, suggests Ms Stubbings.
“This should be introduced slowly to ensure lambs don’t gorge themselves and die.
When feed rates are increased, start adding a mineral supplement and protein, depending on forage quality.”
But when grass is offered, producers must take care that it is not detrimental to grazing quality for the breeding flock the following spring, adds Mr Lloyd.
When lambs have to be housed for finishing, Ms Stubbings says only the best should be housed, with the rest remaining outside to gain flesh before housing for a rapid finishing period.
“Bring in no more than the top 25% at any one time and aim to finish them in as short a time as possible,” she advises.
“Housed lambs will eat about 8kg of concentrate for every 1kg of weight gain.
With concentrates at 120/t, 1kg of gain, will cost about 96p, roughly equivalent to current finished lamb prices.”