Higher lamb prices must not lead to complacency

Higher market prices must not be allowed to trigger complacency in the way prime lambs are drawn and marketed, warned EBLEX at last week’s NSA North Sheep event.

Sheep producers must capitalise on the strong demand and get the best possible price for every kilo produced, they said.

EBLEX national stock selection manager, Steve Powdrill, stressed that higher prices didn’t mean “sit on your hands and think job done”.

“Don’t just assume because the trade for prime lambs is so strong it can mean a slackening-off in the effort put into the way lambs are selected and marketed. This is a time to be even more strict and to try to earn more by selling lambs in the right condition to the right buyers.”

Stressing that “when a lamb is ready, a lamb is ready,” he urged sheep producers to respond to the demand by handling lambs more often.

“Don’t hold on to lambs just because you don’t normally start to draw until after a certain date. In this type of market that approach will cost you money, rather than earn you money.”

And producers should not assume extra kilos automatically meant extra cash, as that would not be the case if lambs get too heavy.

“Heavy lambs only pay when you’re selling to a specific market – but it has to be extra flesh and not extra fat. When you blindly chase weight this season it’ll backfire on you,” he said.

Currently, the market isn’t looking for anything more than 3H lambs, but EBLEX said abattoirs are handling too many excessively fat carcasses. Although the fattest classification is five, recent weeks have seen late season hoggets classified up to fat class eight.

“That mindset has got to change for this season’s prime lamb market,” Mr Powdrill added.

But for producers facing grass shortages, EBLEX said supplementary feeding to maintain growth must not be ruled out.

“Feed is an expensive input these days, but there will be less margin in lambs that suffer a severe growth check caused by grass shortages and then end up being sold as poorer-quality lambs later in the season. Producers with lambs growing well now should keep them growing, get them at the right weight and sell them.”

And even though prime lamb prices were earning some producers up to £40 a head more than last year, many more could improve returns by better communication with marts and deadweight buyers.

“Sheep producers are now in a marketplace they’ve wanted to be in for a long time, so they should make the very best of it.”

Mr Powdrill encouraged producers to follow market signals, keep a keen eye on prices and talk to auctioneers and abattoirs about what’s wanted and work towards producing lambs that hit the specification and can earn the highest price.

“Profitability isn’t about how much lambs made in the mart this week, it’s about how much it actually costs to produce every kilo of lamb that’s sold. This is a good time to be in sheep, but with prices at this level it’s the perfect opportunity to sit down and assess flock management and to look very closely at every aspect of efficiency.

“In this sort of market there’s even more financial incentive for doing it better.”

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