15 January 1999

Minimise losses: Advice now for lamb marketing

By James Garner

LAMB finishers should expect little price improvement as over-supply and competition within the meat trade continues to depress prices. This means considering whether it is worth feeding lambs or selling now.

Despite a slight improvement in price last week, MLC economist Lesley Green says this is unlikely to herald a great recovery.

Minimising losses is vital, and Borders-based sheep consultant Robin Thomson advises working out the cost of increasing lamb liveweight by 1kg. Then plan how to finish lambs, he says.

"There are two types of lambs; those that are ready to be marketed and those that are smaller and need a bit more finish," he says.

"Some producers are trying to take lambs to heavier weights to increase values but current lamb prices make this uneconomic."

Feeding concentrates costs 70p/kg liveweight gain, he says. "At current lamb values of 62p/kg liveweight its better to sell those that are ready to market."

Smaller lambs may need more consideration. "Their market value is probably lower than 62p/kg, so they may need concentrates to improve quality and value."

However, he says that keeping lambs out is still worthwhile where theres forage available, even grass, because its much cheaper. "Keep lambs out unless theyre using grass designated for ewes. But where grass supply is tight bring lambs in to ensure ewe condition is maintained."

Forage crops are another cheap finishing option, with liveweight gain costing 35p/kg, according to Mr Thomson.

Cotswolds-based specialist Alistair Bird says feeding forage will keep costs down. "With good quality roots such as kale or swedes on drier soils, split off bigger lambs and feed them 1-1.5lb of barley or beet pulp to speed finishing and make roots last."

But ensure a run-back onto grass or place straw bales and loose straw around headlands so lambs have shelter and a dry lying area.

Dont worry about forage running out before lambs finish. "Any lambs left will need concentrates to improve quality and finish," says Mr Thomson.

But Mr Bird advises introducing concentrates slowly to prevent acidosis. "When feeding a concentrate high in digestible fibre, such as sugar beet pulp, it is possible to build up to ad-lib feeding, but not straight away."

Where forage quality is poor, and small lambs need to be brought inside to finish, costs can be controlled by feeding silage and small amounts of concentrate.

"Where theres not enough silage, feed a store lamb finishing compound of 16-18%, or a home-mix consisting of cereal, beet pulp and soya."

Alternative ways of marketing lambs should also be considered, such as selling butchered lambs direct to local customers. Many butchers with killing licences will process animals for producers. Although sale volume is likely to be small, selling lambs in this manner might relieve some pressure.

MARKETING LAMBS

&#8226 Ration cost/kg gain.

&#8226 Sell when ready to market.

&#8226 Marketing alternatives?