Selling lambs at lighter weights without the required finish on them, simply to chase cash flow is a wasted opportunity, particularly when it lowers the overall price of finished lamb.

DEFRA figures show the number of lambs slaughtered in August 2005 is up by 70,000 on August 2004 to 1,180,400, with weights showing a slight decrease.

MLC’s beef and sheep scientist Mary Browne says there are many reasons why lamb producers should avoid selling under finished lambs at the end of summer.

 “Selling under finished lambs means producers are missing an opportunity to improve lamb returns by putting more weight without the penalty of excess fat cover.

Producers must supply lambs according to market demand and specification, adds Better Returns Project’s Chris Lloyd.

“They must understand specific weight, grade and fat class requirements to select an even supply.

An evenly batched group of lambs will often command premium prices.”

Rather than selling under finished lambs, it is worth giving some extra feed to increase fat cover and weight at slaughter, reckons Dr Browne.

“With grass quality declining at this time of year, feeding concentrates to lambs at grass is advisable, so the best grass can be given to tupping ewes.

“Supplementary feeding will increase growth rate, carcass returns and reduce days to slaughter.”

But it should be introduced gradually over one to two weeks, she advises.

But first calculate the costs and returns to ensure it is cost-effective.

“Feeding 500g a lamb a day could be worthwhile at current lamb prices where cheap cereals are available.”

She calculates that spending 1 on feed can increase returns by about 4-6 a lamb depending on feed and market prices.

Southern Counties Fresh Foods procurement manager Steve Lowe adds that improving a grade can offer premiums of up to 10p/kg extra on the deadweight price.

At a time when market price is dictating everything, he reckons it is vital producers keep communicating with their market outlet.

“Take advantage of having a fieldsman come out to regularly handle lambs and set target times for finishing.”

chrissie.lawrence@rbi.co.uk