5 June 1998

Early lambs, good price

By Sue Rider

UPLAND sheep producers could creep feed lambs at grass to boost numbers sold early in the season.

Signet adviser Robin Thomson explains that selling as early as possible is one way to avoid low prices from either midsummer prime sales or autumn store markets.

"Last year lambs finished in June fetched on average 4.92p/kg more than lambs sold in August, but this was a much lower premium than in previous years," he explains. Average price then fell by 12.38p/kg between August and November, when producers would normally expect to receive the highest returns.

"Its difficult to know if the 1997 pattern will be repeated, but a major influence will be the volume of lamb exported to France." Last year this trade was down 15% compared with 1996, and with the current high exchange rate trade looks unlikely to improve this year, he explains.

"Creep feeding enables producers to finish more lambs early in the season – although weigh up the cost of the creep – about £3 a lamb – against the potential early season premium," says Mr Thomson.

Staffs-based Signet consultant Maurice Jones agrees that there is a case for creep feeding lambs to push them on. "But they should be at the 20kg stage now for it to be worth creeping them – any lighter and it wont be cost effective."

He also cautions that early finishing will only work on units where there is the management time to handle weaning a bunch of ewes earlier and the difficulties that can cause. "Youll be drying off the ewes earlier when grass is still plentiful – you only need lose one ewe worth £50-60 to mastitis and you take the profit out of 25-30 lambs."

But provided lambs are at the right stage, and there is the management available, creep feeding will be worthwhile,, and getting some lambs away earlier could benefit those remaining.

"There will be more grass for the other lambs and you should be able to keep them to slightly higher weights and not be forced to sell when grass is going away from you," he adds.