Lamb sales and subsidy cheque help cash flow
Sheep have been the focus of attention at Kings Arms in recent weeks, as this years lamb crop is sold and preparations are made for the coming season.Allan Wright reports
CASH flow is positive at the moment for Robert and Caroline Dalrymple as lamb sales from Kings Arms continue on a weekly basis.
There was also a recent boost from an early payment of one of the main subsidies. The cheque, for almost £10,000, was the first (30%) advance of the sheep annual premium (£3.99 a ewe) plus 90% of the less favoured area supplement (£4.84 a ewe).
The Dalrymples were among the first in Scotland to receive the payment which came two months earlier than last year. The Scottish Office has said it intends to have everyone paid by the end of August.
Lamb prices remained steady until the middle of July when they dropped by about £4 a head. By then almost 1100 had been sold and the average price was exactly £50. That is still down about £10 on last year when early prices went as high as £76 in the post-BSE boom. Today, values are very similar to 1996.
The Dalrymples selected the lambs themselves for sale a fortnight ago while farm manager Andrew Maclean was on holiday. "It was pleasing to find from the returns (from ABP Bathgate) that we had not lost our touch, although there was one that didnt seem to match any lamb we drew out at 16kg and 0 3L," says Caroline.
"But it did remind us that by July you need 41.5kg liveweight to give a 19.5kg carcass, whereas a 38kg live lamb had the same yield in late May," she adds.
It has been a busy time with the sheep, including drawing lambs for market, dipping the entire flock (except lambs to be marketed within two weeks), selecting Texel cross ewe lambs to be retained for breeding and getting rams ready for the breeding season.
Dipping during the recent heat wave had to be done early morning and evening to avoid unnecessary stress on men and sheep. "There has been rain all around us but here there has been nothing except light showers. Our annual rainfall averages about 40in and so far this year we have had only 15in," says Robert.
"First cut silage was early to get high quality and we were relying on a late second cut for bulk. That looks a forlorn hope as the fields are burning up," he adds.
He is licensed to buy OP dips and they are used at Kings Arms. "We took that decision after consulting the staff. They assured us that OPs, properly used, created no hazard and provided the best protection for the sheep," he says.
Texel cross ewe lambs are pleasing both owners and farm manager, weighing around 50kg on average and with plenty of size. They have selected 230 for breeding which is about 40 more than usual – an insurance against possible high prices for Mule ewe lambs which have still to be purchased.
Caring for the Suffolk and Texel tups is given high priority months before the breeding season. "There is no point getting to mating time and finding tups going lame. We put them through a formalin footbath every week for 10 weeks before they go to the ewes," says Andrew Maclean, who also checks to make sure the working parts are in order.
Tups go out at Kings Arms on Sept 24 and that is too close to the big Kelso sale for buying in replacement stock. Instead, Robert heads for the premier sales of both Suffolks (Edinburgh) and Texels (Lanark).
Last Friday he was in Edinburgh and paying £2520 for five Suffolk ram lambs. Robert gave 750gns for one off West Foulden, 500gns for a West Carse lamb, 450gns for one off Friarland and 350gns each for Drimmie and Barcaldine lambs.
His contention is that breeders send the top 10% of their stock to Edinburgh, but not all are suitable for the pedigree trade and quality commercial sheep can be bought around his average price of 500gns, whereas the top prices were 54,000gns and 48,000gns.
"Our Signet adviser says a finished lamb price of £45 makes it a nonsense to pay more than an average £500 for a ram," he says.
Robert will be prepared to go rather higher for Texel stock because it will be shearlings he buys at Lanark and also because they have to produce breeding females as well as slaughter lambs.
There has never been any sign of scrapie at Kings Arms and the Dalrymples do not make genetic resistance a major selection point. But they do pay attention to estimated breeding values, particularly growth rate and lean index. "Quick growth and good grades are what we are after," they say.
The bulls, including home-bred Charolais, are now running with the summer calving portion of the suckler herd. "The aim is to tighten the whole calving pattern which currently runs from the end of March through to June. We sell all the calves as yearlings in May and would like to eliminate calving after mid-June," says Robert.
The "working end" of Texel rams at Kings Arms. Numbers will be topped up with shearlings from the impending sale at Lanark.
Robert Dalrymple (right) and farm manager Andrew MacLean check some of the Suffolk rams in plenty of time for the coming breeding season.
• Kings Arms and Crailoch Farms, at Ballantrae on the Ayrshire coast, run as one 262ha (650 acre) unit by Robert and Caroline Dalrymple.
• Grass the only crop – for grazing and high quality silage. It is an early area but land near the sea is sandy and burns easily in summer.
• Suckler herd of 180 cows mated to Charolais sires and progeny sold as yearlings.
• Sheep flock of 900 Mule and Texel-cross ewes lambing from mid-February. About 300 hoggs are also lambed.
• Farm staff of three.