Foot-and-mouth could not have come at a worse time for many livestock producers, who faced movement standstills just when they needed to start the breeding season.
Pedigree and early-lamb producers were worst hit, with many not able to turn rams out with the ewes for three weeks. “Some would be lambing in late-December/early- January, so they missed the breeding window,” says Liz Genever, beef and sheep scientist at MLC.
Instead, these lambs will be born up to three weeks late, missing the premium early market. Pedigree lambs will face a shorter growing season before the summer sales, resulting in lower values because of their smaller size, she adds.
“However, the later lambing period could turn out to be an advantage. The early-lamb market was not good this year and some people considered changing to later lambing.”
The later season could also mean some producers might be able to lamb outdoors and the animals will be able to grow on more offspring grass instead of costly concentrates, says Dr Genever. “If you take care of grass you can time lamb growth to coincide with grass growth, which will reduce costs.”
With fewer early lambs, farmers are likely to carry more old-season lambs over the winter to fill the gap, she adds. But farmers should be careful not to keep them too long to ride out the poor prices. “Cash flow is a major concern, but it’s difficult to justify giving expensive concentrates for a market that might not want what you’re selling.”
It was not just early-lamb producers who were affected by F&M restrictions. Many commercial sheep and beef producers were forced to keep older and less viable animals, which may have gone to the bull or tup through necessity. “The problem is with the quality of the cows or ewes and with the health of the bull or ram,” says Dr Genever.
“There is concern that older ewes and cows may have a lower lambing or calving percentage and suffer from health disorders.” While some may be capable of carrying lambs or calves, they may struggle to rear them, due to poor udders or teeth.
“Consider older animals: Watch their condition score at lambing or calving – they may require additional resources,” says Dr Genever. “But with good management techniques, this autumn’s delays could have a minimal effect.”
For producers who decided against breeding from older stock, the opportunity is there to buy in new blood and make plans for the future. “On the sheep side, it is a buyers’ market, although cattle prices have not been as affected,” says Dr Genever. Farmers should take care to minimise health problems caused by bringing new stock on to the farm, she adds. “It is important to buy stock from a known source with a known health status.”