By Jeremy Hunt
A LIFT in prime lamb prices is giving store lamb finishers an opportunity to re-coup losses on poor and often non-existent margins of the last two years.
The market needs to stabilise now, says Lancs producer Alan Bargh. “There have been some grim years for store lamb finishers and even last year it was February before we saw any price improvement.
“This season has been kinder to finishers and although post-Christmas trade promises a more confident start for hoggets lamb must not become too pricey.
“This will risk resistance from buyers and consumers,” says Mr Bargh whose main enterprise is 210 dairy cows at North Farm, Heaton-with-Oxcliffe, Morecambe.
This season he will finish about 6000 lambs on rented dairy grazings, although his system is becoming increasingly difficult to operate.
“Most dairy farmers want lambs spread thickly on pastures up to December to clean everything off, but they wont take as many lambs after Christmas.
“That means we have to sell many lambs earlier and have to spread the rest thinly over pastures up to February.”
Mr Bargh is quietly confident about this seasons trade for hoggets. “Many light lambs were sold for export, clearing them out of the system in early autumn.
“And store lamb prices at the seasons start reflected previous years trade giving finishers a fighting chance. We also had an excellent autumns grazing when lambs did really well.”
Most of Mr Barghs lambs are bought in October-November. Last autumn he paid 15-17 for Mule wethers and early 20s for Suffolk, Texel and Charollais crosses.
He will be selling lambs until April, taking Down crosses to 42-43kg.
“The last thing the lamb trade needs is for it to become too dear and give New Zealand lamb an opening or make consumers switch to other meats.”
Comparing the current market with previous years, Mr Bargh explains how strong it is at the moment.
A 40-plus prime lamb is without a value of 6-8 for skins, and has extra slaughtering costs to absorb compared to pre-BSE days.