28 June 2002

Sheep farmers polish up their lamb selection skills

By Robert DaviesWales correspondent

SELECTING slaughter lambs with the correct level of fat cover and at the right weight could return an extra £8.40 a lamb, visitors to a recent lamb grading demonstration at an abattoir in Powys learned.

So many producers wanted to brush up their prime lamb selection skills, that two extra training sessions were arranged, according to Diana Lavers, training co-ordinator of Primestock Producers, Wales.

"Only the first 60 producers who applied could be accommodated by Hamers International plant at Llanidloes. Further mid-Wales courses could follow if the groups application for EU Objective 3 funding succeeds."

She said the residue of cash previously obtained from Brussels, to help lamb and beef producers, was being used to fund grading sessions at several abattoirs, and two lamb marketing conferences.

MLC grader Ivor Lewis told producers attending the first session at Hamers that matching abattoir specifications would put more cash in their pockets.

"There is a market for almost all lambs except those that are excessively fat, but the real money is paid for those that grade well."

When the weekly base price is £2/kg, a 19kg lamb grading R3L will realise £39.90 on a typical abattoir price grid. But holding on to it for an extra fortnight could increase deadweight by 3kg and push it into fat class 4L, leading to penalty deductions, he warned.

"Selecting the lamb at the right weight and level of fat cover would return an extra £8.40. Sending lambs for slaughter earlier also reduces grazing pressure sooner and you may even be able to make extra money from buying in store lambs for finishing."

Mr Lewis urged producers to learn all they could about specifications set by different markets and decide which one they should target, given conditions on their farms and sheep breeds used.

Producers were given the chance to handle lambs with the right level of fat cover as well as over and under-finished animals. They then made their own assessments of the weight and carcass quality of 14 new season lambs before these were killed and graded on the hook.

It was a new experience for Emlyn Greenow, one of two shepherds working for the Peniarth Estate at Tywyn in Gwynedd. Though he selects many of the estates 3000 prime lambs sold each year, it was the first time he had followed lambs through an abattoir.

"The grading sheets show that we do a reasonable job of selecting, but actually checking alive and dead shows we need to be careful."

William Williams-Wynne, his employer, said he did far less lamb selection than in the past so the session was an ideal way of refreshing a skill that could make a big difference to sheep farmings bottom line.

Jane Snow, who runs an organic sheep flock at Llandinam in Powys with husband Angus, admitted that grading problems last year had made her doubt her ability to draw sheep in optimum condition.

"There was so much variation in grading returns from different abattoirs that I thought it was time to reassure myself that I am still up to the job, which I am."

Stephen Griffiths and John Jones, shepherds at ADAS Pwllpeiran, said the training session was valuable, not least because it demonstrated how fine the lines were between different lamb grades.

Abattoir manager John Walsh said he welcomed any initiative that helped producers meet carcass specifications.

"Producers sold lambs deadweight for the first time when live auctions were closed. They were shocked to discover the variations in grading between individual lambs that are hidden when batches are sold at auction markets.

"Our policy is to allow producers to see their lambs weighed and graded, so we think that there should be many more training sessions like this." &#42