Increasingly wet weather and a rise in the number of lambs being marketed after being folded on root crops means sheep farmers need to pay attention to lamb cleanliness prior to marketing or risk having animals rejected at slaughter.
However, in previous years there has been confusion over exactly how much wool should be removed from lambs. Some outlets insist on all belly and neck wool being removed, while others are satisfied with a single blow down the centre of the belly with minimal crutching.
Remove too much wool and abattoirs may penalise producers for reduced skin value, but leave lambs dirty and it is likely Meat Hygiene Service inspectors will reject lambs and order them to be clipped at the slaughterhouse, incurring further costs for vendors.
Pearce Hughes, fieldsman for Welsh Country Foods’ Gaerwen abattoir, Anglesey, says the past fortnight has seen increasing numbers of dirty lambs coming forward, with even those still on grass having muddy bellies where fields are becoming waterlogged.
“Farmers need to consider bellying lambs now to ensure they meet the requirements of MHS vets inspecting lambs in the lairage. Any dirty lambs are likely to be rejected and then we will have to employ contract shearers at farmers’ expense.”
As a guide, Mr Pearce says farmers should take a double blow down the centre of the belly, where the knife blow would run. “Lambs’ tails should be shorn where they are dirty, but when there’s no need to clip tails they shouldn’t be.”
And while Welsh Country Foods don’t penalise for over-clipped lambs, Mr Hughes says they do charge where lambs have been shorn right out. “We lose between £1 and £2 a lamb on the skin value for an over-clipped lamb and up to £4 a lamb where they have been shorn,” he adds. Furthermore, farmers need to remember that having to clip lambs at the slaughterhouse slows down the slaughter line.
In a bid to avoid dirty lambs, Mr Hughes suggests where lambs are being fed concentrates outside, troughs and feeders should be moved regularly and handling pens should be set up on fresh ground when possible. “When lambs are gathered for transport they should be penned at least a couple of hours before transport to allow them to dry and to remove as much gut content as possible.”
Meanwhile, Livestock Auctioneers Association secretary Chris Dodds says most abattoirs are unlikely to bid for unclipped lambs at markets.
“Unless abaottoirs are able to clip lambs themselves they’re unlikely to buy them, so farmers should have them presented well every time. What we have to remember is these lambs are a food product and as an industry we must ensure there is as little risk of meat contamination as possible.
“When a knife blade touches muck on a fleece it is likely to draw it into the carcass and cause contamination, meaning the carcass will have to be rejected,” he adds.