25 July 1997

SKILFUL ON-SCREEN SALES

Deadweight selling through an electronic auction is an efficient and time-saving way to sell according to one Lancashire producer. Jeremy Hunt reports

DEADWEIGHT on-screen selling is providing benefits for lambs finished in three different sheep production systems on one Lancashire farm.

Early season lambs finished indoors, lambs produced off grass from a March lambing flock, and store lambs drawn off grass and from indoor finishing are being sold from Closes Hall Farm, Bolton-by-Bowland, near Clitheroe. All are marketed through Beacon North West.

Michael Cornthwaite, who runs 740 breeding ewes and 175 dairy cows on this Ribble Valley holding, has been a firm supporter of electronic selling since its inception nearly five years ago.

"Initially it was more convenient because my brother and I share machinery and trailers and it overcame the problem of us both needing to move sheep to market at the same time.

"But over the years its become an efficient and time saving way of selling that provides good returns for quality lambs," says Mr Cornthwaite.

David Pennington, regional Beacon fieldsman based at Gisburn Auction Mart, is currently one of two staff dealing with around 130,000 lambs a year. He says there are still farmers who feel they need special skills to supply lambs for selling on-screen.

"Anyone who makes a good job of drawing lambs for the live market can successfully put the same skills into practice for the electronic auction. Just draw to a high standard, phone the details through and sit back and wait for the phone to ring," says Mr Pennington.

The seasons first trading from Closes Hall Farm is from the 180 Poll Dorset x Mule flock which produces Suffolk sired lambs during January. The lambs are creep fed and weaned in mid-March onto an ad-lib lamb finisher ration. The first 19kg lambs are usually ready to draw from about 10 weeks old.

Mr Cornthwaite reckons he is £3-4/head better off by selling these early spring lambs deadweight on the screen. "These indoor finished lambs are often unfairly discounted in the live market when they have to compete with the first of the seasons grass-fed lambs.

"When we put the lambs on the screen we need to have them sold within a few days. We are selecting on level of finish and not on weight because this type of breeding finished indoors can soon get too fit."

But Mr Cornthwaite says the main March lambing flock of Mule ewes producing Suffolk-sired prime lambs offers a greater flexibility of marketing than many farmers realise.

Lambs are drawn from mid-July through until January aiming for 18-20kg deadweight. Beacons Mon/Wed/Fri sales give ample opportunity for stock to be presented to buyers although lambs from Closes Hall Farm are often sold within hours of being offered.

Mr Cornthwaite aims for 19kg 3L or 3H lambs and although lambs are drawn to fit that category, with close attention paid to the amount of cover on the loin, there is sufficient variation within the trade for these lambs to fit a variety of buyers specifications.

After lambs are selected for sale they are moved on to the best pasture available with the aim of keeping them growing right up until the day they are sold. "An extra half kilo is no problem at this stage. These lambs are growing and not putting on extra fat," he says.

September sees the first of an annual intake of around 350 Scottish Blackface store lambs weighing around 30kg liveweight. The most forward are finished off grass but the majority are housed just after Christmas for a six week finishing period.

"We feed silage and an ad-lib finisher pellet aiming for about a 3kg gain over six weeks."

Lambs are sold at 15-19kg deadweight but usually average 17.5-18.5kg, he says.

"Blackies can produce a good quality carcass for a horned lamb. We keep a close check on them once they are inside and feeding well but the three times a week on-screen sales gives us ample opportunity to make the best out of them," says Mr Cornthwaite.n

Lambs for deadweight sale from Closes Hall Farm are marketed all year through an electronic auction, saving time and ensuring a good return.

Fieldsman David Pennington (right) says anyone who draws successfully for the live market can do so for electronic auctions. Michael Cornthwaite sells early season, March-born and finished store lambs through Beacon.

ELECTRONIC SALES

&#8226 Flexible timing

&#8226 Saves time

&#8226 Good returns