3 November 1995


Identifying market opportunities for producers in less favoured areas using traditional breeds has been the fruit of an EU-funded project. Harry Hope reports

VALUABLE intelligence on the export prospects for mainly lightweight lambs has been gathered by Scottish Agricultural College researchers.

Details came from an EU Commission-funded project entitled Improvement of the quality and marketability of sheep meat produced in the less favoured areas of the Community.

Researchers included the Scottish Agricultural Colleges Simon Scanlan and Nic Friggens; A Yiannakopoulos, Aristotlean University, Greece, and C Lopez, CIA Mabegondo, Spain.

LFA regions studied included Scotland, Greek Macedonia, and Galicia in Spain.

The remit recognised the single EU market has developed rapidly in response to an enlarged Community with the accession of Spain, Greece and Portugal, coupled with reform of the common sheepmeat regime.

This has resulted in an increased trade flow within the EU, particularly from Great Britain to France and other southern member states, including Greece and Spain.

The challenge is for the UK sheep industry to consider and further exploit its potential for targeting lamb production to match specific export markets at different times of the year – consistent with resources available on individual farms and the suitability of lambs from other EU suppliers.

The marketing aims, identified in each region were to:

&#8226 Produce lambs in the UK to target specification for export over an extended marketing period, recognising environmental constraints and retaining the option of home market supply.

&#8226 Capitalise on the potential to take lambs to heavier weights in Greece from a range of feeding systems to supply traditional butchers and supermarkets, targeting the Easter lamb trade in particular.

&#8226 Make full use of Galician grazing resources in Spain and to produce lambs at planned dates for traditional Galician outlets.

All three member states in the project have strong seasonal price patterns, reflecting changes in the balance between domestic supply and demand.

Radical change

Researchers recognised the radical change in market prospects for lamb producers in the UKs LFAs with the development of export outlets for light lambs in the southern half of the EU. While main outlets are France followed by Italy, trade with Spain, Portugal and Greece, continues to expand.

These opportunities have also resulted in reduced sales of store lambs at the traditional autumn sales when prices were always at their lowest point in the seasonal price pattern.

It is recommended LFA producers should be encouraged to target both established and emerging export outlets through planned production to a tight specification.

Researchers caution there was a tendency in the early years of the export trade with southern Europe to believe it was possible to export all light lambs on the basis of weight range alone, regardless of carcass quality. This attitude is considered unsatisfactory for southern European consumers and potentially damaging to market developments for both northern and southern domestic supplies.

Implications for UK producers were developed from a financial study of a typical hill farm stocked with pure Scottish Blackface. The model was based on a flock of 1800 ewes and a 100% lambing performance. It was assumed that 25% of ewe lambs would be retained for breeding, with the rest sold for export.

The suggested marketing policy for the farm was that, at each draw, all lambs reaching a target weight corresponding to fat class 3L would be sold. Accurate selection was assumed, but it was also recognised the frequency of draws would vary according to the system and quality of keep provided.

After weaning, lambs could be sold immediately, retained at grass on the farm, brought inside for finishing on concentrates, or transferred for a period of slow growth and over-wintering on rented ground. For longer keep lambs this might include spells on several different diets.

Projected net margins from different finishing systems for the Scottish Blackface flock example are given in the table, above left.

A survey of butchers in Galicia, Spain, showed the main type of lamb sold by butchers was in the 4k-10kg deadweight range. But 40% of retailers distinguished between two types of lamb for their trade. Forty per cent of this group (15% of the total) sell a second type of lamb over 10kg dw up to a maximum of 25kg dw (see table, above right).

Peak demand for lamb in Greece is for extended family feasts at Easter. Though this does not coincide with the highest prices, it is the time when it is possible to sell a wide range of carcass weights without incurring severe price penalties. &#42

Net margins from

different finishing

regimes for the Scottish

Blackface flock example

SystemNet margin


Sell at weaning£534

Grass finishing

(up to 4 weeks)£763


finishing (up to

8 weeks)£568

Grass (up to

4 weeks)





finishing (up to


Typical weight of lambs sold by butchers in Galicia

CarcassMain typeSecondary

wtof lambtype of

(kg)sold lamb sold







over 16 02



Gallego sheep are a typical Spanish breed. Trials aim to optimise grazing resources and produce lambs at planned dates.