A wise old sheep man gave me a piece of advice a long time ago. “Don’t try to educate your customers, just give them what they want,” he told me.
In other words, just supply the demand that’s already there.
I clearly wasn’t listening closely enough to what the old boy said, however.
What now seems like an ill-judged decision – to start performance-recording my sheep in 2009 – is proof of that.
The mistake I made was to believe that the demand for rams from recorded flocks was coming from the marketplace in 2009. It wasn’t the case then and it’s still not now.
We’ve just sold 50 rams at various markets this year and hardly a single soul asked about their EBVs.
The market was awash with rams that were sporting impressive EBVs that were struggling to find buyers. Meanwhile, any that looked like the job with no EBVs were selling like hot cakes.
Neale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in south-west Scotland. He farms 365ha in partnership with his wife, Janet, much of which is under stewardship for wildlife
Those of us who have adopted the practice are now “tied in” like disciples of a weird cult.
We go through rituals that involve weighing and measuring our animals and then try to convince our customers why we’ve done it; even though they’re not that interested.
It’s the very thing that my wise old friend warned me to avoid, all those years ago. The concept of recording sheep has been cleverly sold to the market. It wasn’t brought about by market demand.
At the moment, there are a great many farmers having to take a poor price for their lambs – 140p/kg is average some weeks.
However, there are a few farmers who are getting a premium price of up to 180p/kg in the same market on the same day.
I’m pretty sure the vast majority have not achieved their success by deciding to use recorded rams with superior EBVs.
Those producers are achieveing the premium for producing lambs that have a look of quality about them.
This explains why farmers at this autumn’s sales have paid a premium for rams that also had a look of quality about them.
The recording concept is not geared towards producing rams or lambs that look good. Recording produces lambs to fit into a standard range that demands no premium in the market at all.
My understanding of the market may be letting me down here, but if we produce more lambs that fit into that standard range then the price is bound to go down.
If the UK’s farmers increase their production of bog-standard lamb that is exactly the same as the New Zealand product, then the supermarkets will be delighted.
Sheep farmers in the UK can then look forward to joining the nation’s dairy farmers in the race to the bottom.
We need to concentrate our efforts on the quality end of the market instead of jumping headlong into a cut-throat market that is already oversupplied.
New Zealand production methods are hailed by some as being the future for the UK’s sheep industry.
But I’m beginning to think it’s a dangerous way to go and as exciting as watching paint drying.
No wonder they feel the need to go out at the weekends and jump off bridges with knicker elastic tied to their ankles in New Zealand.
I just wish the £9,000 I’ve spent on recording my sheep over the past six years had been in my back pocket at a ram sale this year.
I would have loved to have spilled it all out on one good-quality ram. What a rush that would have been.