(Henley-in-Arden Auction Sales)
KEEP a close eye on your lambs this season – ideally inspecting them once a week. And sell them the moment they are ready.
That is Craig Thompsons advice to farmers if they are to avoid the discount associated with over-ripe lambs.
"If a buyer is told a pen averages 36kg, he wont want any in it to weigh over 36.5kg.
"In many cases, its better to take the odd over-fat animal out and sell it separately, rather than let it spoil a good pen. Its not uncommon to see discounts of £4 a head.
"In the summer, when farmers are busy on the land, it can be difficult to inspect sheep on a regular basis. Many in this area run more than one flock, drawing lambs from each one on a rota basis – perhaps only every third week.
"The temptation, later in the season when the p/kg price starts dropping, is to hold on to stock and put weight on it, especially in July when the glut comes and prices fall rapidly."
But when to sell depends partly on the breed with which you are working, says Mr Thompson.
"A lamb out of a Mule ewe crossed with a Suffolk or Continental sire can be 42kg and still be lean.
"But put the same sire on, say, a Beulah and you might end up with a lamb that is too fat at 35kg.
"But buyers and abattoir owners are under ever-increasing consumer-led pressure to avoid fat, so their buying specifications are becoming tighter.
"It is very rare, however, to get complaints from them about under-finished lambs. When this does occur, its usually late in the season, if grass supplies are short."
With Easter early this year, however, the early lamb trade saw lighter animals sold than was typical in the past.
At Henley-in-Arden Easter show last week, for example, about 65% were in the 33kg to 37kg range, compared with the 50% more traditionally seen.
And even then, there were one or two that were on the edge of being too ripe, says Mr Thompson.
"If farmers can make £65 a head, they will probably sell them, regardless of the p/kg price."
Henley-in-Ardens show saw the championship taken by Archie Knowless 33kg Suffolk which made £80 to the days judge David Partridge. The overall lamb average was just over 182p/kg.
Pure Suffolks are the biggest single breed seen early in the season at Henley-in-Arden, with pure Continentals making up another 10% or 15%, says Mr Thompson.
Meanwhile the trend towards slightly later lambing continued again this year.
"The established early lambers traded as normal. But among those who lamb in the conventional period, another 10%-plus put tupping back by a fortnight.
"Delaying can ease the housing and labour requirement. The lambs are born a fortnight nearer the grass. And farmers have seen a buoyant store and finished sheep trade in the autumn in recent years." *
"Sell lambs as soon as they are ready."