26 November 1999

Liveweight or deadweight?

Lamb marketings future

was hotly debated at a

recent sheep meeting.

Marianne Curtis reports

THE proportion of lambs sold liveweight has remained fairly static at 70% for several years.

But the dearth of East Anglian marts means that, despite liveweight versus deadweight selling being hotly debated at an NSA eastern region meeting, many eastern producers are forced down the deadweight route.

Livestock consultant and former auctioneer Peter Crichton argued that live auctions were necessary to put a bottom in the market. "In every sector of British agriculture producers are price takers. Moving away from live auctions means moving further towards supermarkets controlling prices.

"Currently, all lamb buyers focus on liveweight prices. When there is no liveweight price, the market will go the same way as for broilers and pigs, resulting in a fall in prices."

Defending deadweight selling, Charles Overland of Allied Livestock Marketing agreed there was a danger of retailers exerting a downward pressure on prices. He added that an export market was essential to raise prices.

"There is no exact answer to whether lambs should be sold liveweight or deadweight. But every sheep sold ends up in an abattoir eventually and must be a product that someone wants to buy and will pay a premium for. "It is a great shame that nine to 10 months are spent producing a lamb which fails at the final hurdle because it has been selected wrongly and is either too fat or has no finish," said Mr Overland.

But the problem of under- finished lambs can largely be avoided by liveweight selling, responded Mr Crichton. "Auctions cater for all grades and quality of lambs. When unfinished lambs are presented, there is the opportunity to take them home again. You cant get them back when they are sold deadweight."

Flexibility is also a key attribute of live markets, said Mr Crichton. "When lambs are ready they have to be sold." Producers can sell as many lambs as they like at an auction market, compared with deadweight selling where abattoirs need to know how many lambs will be sold in advance, he added.

But being able to sell large numbers of lambs at auctions can be a disadvantage, according to Mr Overland. "When there are too many lambs in a live auction the trade drops.

"You are also dependent on a good auctioneer. Nowadays some auctioneers will be selling houses from Wednesday to Monday and are less focused on finding buyers for livestock."

Selection at the correct time for slaughter and breeding are key to improving lamb prices, believes Mr Overland. "When you are not confident about selecting lambs for slaughter, get someone else to go through them.

"Many sheep producers are also realising the merit of using high value reference sires to improve lamb growth rates and killing out percentage, without them getting too fat," he added.

But there was a lukewarm response to reference sires from some producers attending the meeting. They believed that rewards for producing quality lambs were still too low to justify paying extra for reference sires.

LIVEWEIGHT/DEADWEIGHT

Liveweight

&#8226 Puts bottom in market.

&#8226 Can take home.

&#8226 All grades accepted.

Deadweight

&#8226 Match abattoir requirements.

&#8226 Focus on quality lambs.

&#8226 Must select at correct time.