7 August 1998

Lamb producers should cut costs

By Tim Relf

STOP keeping sheep and you could make more money. That was the stark message given by ADASs head of beef and sheep development, Neil Pickard, at last weeks Sheep 98 event at Malvern.

But for farmers who stay in the enterprise, cost savings will be necessary to remain competitive. With beef, chicken and pork values expected to fall, it is unlikely lamb prices will rise, said Mr Pickard.

However, achieving lower costs at the expense of productivity was a "dangerous route". The goal, he said, should be to cut the break-even cost to less than 200p/kg in the lowlands. Raising the number of lambs reared, or upping slaughter weights, could help.

As regards costs, there were many areas to target. Replacement charges could be reduced by better management and by culling at a more appropriate time. "Try selling them as breeders – rather than culls. You dont want too many dying on your farm."

Better-quality forage could reduce the compound bill and ewes should be fed more according to condition. Check soil analyses and use more appropriate fertiliser rates, advised Mr Pickard.

Labour and machinery were also key areas. Simplify your system, reduce handling time and avoid travelling long distances. "I have seen many farmers go bust when they have farms 15 or 20 miles apart."

Making more use of contractors was also an option. "We all like our own equipment but in some cases, for the smaller producer, contractors are cheaper."

Also speaking at Malvern, David Croston of the Meat and Livestock Commission said sheep farmers need to follow the lead of pig producers. "Many of you know what you get for your lambs – but do you really know how much it costs you to produce? You could be losing money." &#42