10 May 2002

National taste means indoor lamb regime

IN contrast to the highly extensive cattle and pig rearing at El Romeral, sheep production is an indoor activity.

The Spanish demand small, pale-fleshed lambs and these can be best produced in sheds on the farm.

Around 2000 Merino ewes are kept and these are crossed with either Merino, Berrincho or Ille de France rams, producing a lambing percentage of about 150%.

While they are out in the field the lambs wear bright red ribbons around their necks to deter foxes, explains the units shepherd Juan Villalba Barbecho. "We have a lot of foxes, but they are protected by the government. We have to get a licence if we want to trap them."

The lambs come in after two months for weaning, being kept on dry straw in light, airy buildings. They are then fattened on a diet containing 37% maize, 23% barley, 19% soya, 10% wheat, 5% milk powder, 3% bran and 3% minerals until they reach 18kg to 22kg liveweight at about seven months.

Currently the lambs are produced in four batches to give an even supply throughout the year. "We want to change this to get more into the Christmas period," says manager, Ignacio Rufino. At that time they command a price of about k72/head (£44), compared with a more modest k48/head (£29) in the spring.

Finished lambs are sold through a co-op.

Production costs are put at k36/head (£22), leaving a typical net margin of k39/head (£24), based on an average price of k60 (£37) plus a k15 (£9) share of the new flat-rate ewe premium.

Light in weight, light in colour is the preference in Spain.