Edenhall perseveres with stores despite losses
By Jeremy Hunt
BASED on the philosophy that the year you go out is the year you lose out, Cumbria farm manager John Page put last years store lamb losses behind him and has bought almost 1000 lambs for late-season finishing.
Although thats about half the number normally carried by Edenhall Estates, Penrith, there was never any doubt that store lamb finishing would continue despite last years problems.
"Store lambs are part of our business and we believe we should continue. Weve bought less this year and we will make a few other strategic changes to our management to make the best of what will be another difficult marketing year," says Mr Page.
But he acknowledges the unpredictability of store lamb finishing. His costings show a difference of £27 in the sale value of late season lambs over the last two years – based on the 1996 profit of £13.57 and the 1997 loss of £13.35.
The 590ha (1460-acre) Edenhall Estates includes 161ha (400 acres) of woodland and 141ha (350 acres) arable and carries 300 dairy cows and 250 followers, 200 Lleyn ewes and 500 Mule and Bleu du Maine cross ewes. This years first 730 store lambs arrived on one day following Mr Pages annual trip to the massive Lairg sale of North Country Cheviots in late August.
Experience has proved that stronger, April-born lambs thrive better at Edenhall Estates. "Smaller sorts would cost less but they dont do as well, particularly on this sort of farm where we carry a big flock of breeding ewes; smaller lambs are cheaper and they might look okay at first but they can quickly melt away."
This years selection was based on a tight specification of price and size of lamb. The Lairg lambs cost an average of £27 – thats £16 less than a year ago.
"Perhaps in the past we have erred on the side of lambs that were too strong; this year weve been very selective."
A further 200 Scottish Blackface lambs were bought at Lanark averaging £20.94.
Last years Lairg lambs averaged £43 – surprisingly that was 50p less than in 1996. To try and counter this years New Year price fall lambs were held on turnips longer and hoppers stayed out until March when the bulk were sold. The first lambs made £33-£34. About 70% of lambs had been sold before the prime price showed a sharp upturn. The overall average was £40.22 – a loss of £13.35 taking account of all costs.
Careful shepherding aims to reduce stress in lambs after their long journey from northern Scotland. This year all lambs have remained in the groups in which they were bought and after arriving on the farm they were rested for 24-hours in paddocks. Lambs are dipped as a priority after purchase but are not dosed immediately.
They remain on grass until switched to turnips in early to mid December. The 7ha (17 acres) of turnips will feed 148 lambs a ha (60 lambs an acre). Initially lambs have a lay-back area on to grass or stubble.
"The prime market has come under more pressure since we bought our lambs. To make £10 profit we need the Cheviots to make £47 apiece and the Blackies need to be £40 – thats 110p a kilo."
Lamb finisher pellets at £117 a tonne will be fed with 50% barley added to reduce hard feed costs. Last year saw 23.5 tonnes used costing £138 a tonne plus 350 bales of hay costed at £492.
Previous experience has shown improved performance from lambs on ad-lib hopper feeding; lambs ate less compared with trough rationing over a longer period. All lambs are sold liveweight.
"The aim this season will be to sell most from March onwards at 42-43kg for the Cheviots and 40kg for the Blackies but we want to be able to kick into top gear if the price show signs of improving earlier in the New Year.
"Providing lambs are in good condition on the turnips I believe we should be able to push lambs on in four to five weeks if we have to.
"In the days when we had 2000 lambs on the farm we needed to start selling in January, move most in February and the rest in March.
"In the hope that the late season market will see the best prices and with only 1000 lambs this year, Im targeting the whole lot for March selling. Its a gamble but then thats what store lamb finishing has become no matter how well you think youve got it planned," says Mr Page. *
• Long keep lambs.
• Stronger lambs purchased.
• Sell March onwards.