13 November 1998

Lamb finishers advised to sell at first loss…

By Simon Wragg

AS lamb prices continue to fall, and with little or no sign of recovery, finishers are warned that they should accept first loss as being the least and avoid holding on to lambs in the hope of a market recovery.

MLC sheep economist Lesley Green says prospects for lamb prices in the short-term look bleak, but suggests that current private storage aid may help boost prices.

However, independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings disagrees, saying that any lift in price will be short-lived: "There are a lot of lambs to be finished on the back of an oversupplied market. Quality of finished lambs is also declining in some areas, particularly hill lambs."

MLC figures show supermarket lamb buying has increased by 3% while retail prices have fallen by 2% over the last week, suggesting retailers are moving lamb in significant quantities but at lower cost.

Ms Stubbings says many producers are facing the inevitable: "The options are running out. Many lambs are failing to finish outdoors, but ewes must take priority for housing to protect next years lamb crop. Many producers are simply hanging on but for some the decision must now be that first loss is likely to be least loss."

The situation is exacerbated with failure of many winter forage and root crops, she explains. "Many lambs would move on to winter crops, but some of these have failed. Lambs still on pasture are dragging a worm burden and they will need drenching. Mineral deficiencies will also need addressing," she warns.

Where producers were considering holding unfinished lambs as stores on limited forage or over-crowded accommodation, many must now decide to review plans and accept an early loss, warn consultants.

However, where there is sufficient feed and lambs are being kept through to finishing, Ms Stubbing suggests drafting them into groups to ensure optimum feed use. But even where a split feed of 1kg/head/day of compound finisher is being fed liveweight gain wont exceed 1kg/lamb/week at this time of year, she warns "That inevitably will lead to a big time lag to marketing."

Charles Stone, ADASs south- west sheep specialist adds that feed levels for housed lambs should increase until ad-lib feeding is achieved using a balanced, proprietary concentrate. Likewise, producers feeding silage will need to ensure its of good enough quality to ensure growth rates are achieved.

Also, beware that lambs molars could be breaking through causing eating difficulties, he warns.

However, low store prices may also encourage some lowland producers to consider finish lambs on cheap cereals in empty barns. However, Lincs-based Signet consultant Richard Elliott says the difference between store and finished prices must be assessed to determine how much barley can be fed cost-effectively.

LAMB DECISION

&#8226 Ewes need priority

&#8226 First loss is least loss

&#8226 Drenching needed