Lamb sale plan in place

20 July 2001

Lamb sale plan in place

A slaughter and

compensation policy may be

required for many hill lambs

this autumn but, as

Allan Wright reports, it is a

need Ian Duncan Millar is

determined to avoid

IAN Duncan Millar is determined to secure real markets for lambs off Auchnafree and Wester Tullich, the two Perthshire hill farms he manages.

And he has both a plan and a fallback position to help him achieve that aim.

Meantime, lowland lambs (Texel x mules) from Tirinie, born in mid-April, are reaching slaughter weight and facing their own marketing problems.

"The top singles are 42kg liveweight and ready to go, but we cant justify the transport costs for small numbers. The nearest abattoir is Bathgate, and foot-and-mouth regulations demand a dedicated lorry. With the price down to 150p/kg, there is no way that even my own farm transport can be justified for less than a full load," says Mr Duncan Millar.

Tup lambs

"Happily, most of the singles are tup lambs, so they will not go to fat, and the best of the twins are almost ready. I will soon be able to make up a full load and there is also the hope that we may be allowed to use a collection centre in the area within the next fortnight."

He says the marketing group, Highland Glen, has had talks with the Scottish Executive about allowing batches of lambs to be collected at a single disinfection point. "It is the only way that people with small numbers can get their lambs sold. The charge for a lorry to go from here to Bathgate is £170. Diesel for my own vehicle would be £60."

The economics come under even more pressure with the lamb price falling from almost £2/kg to £1.50/kg dw in less than four weeks, and that brings out the real problem facing sheep farmers.

"There are about 250,000 lightweight hill lambs in Scotland that would normally be exported. Although these lambs are not yet being presented, they are overhanging the market, allowing the multiples to push prices down, causing all sorts of problems and dilemmas," says Mr Duncan Millar.

He heads the farm assurance side of Quality Meat Scotland and recognises that efforts to encourage supermarkets to alter their specification to handle lighter lambs has a knock-on effect on the traditional, quality lamb market.

"We are doing what we can, with the expectation of some success, while still accepting that our long-term efforts must concentrate on our branded Specially Selected Scotch Beef & Lamb. Anyway, even selling some light lambs, and that will be done purely on price, will not have a large effect on numbers and I think a slaughter policy will be needed.

"It is not a pleasant thought, but the public must realise that unless these lambs, and probably a large number of cast ewes, are removed, there will be huge environmental and welfare implications this winter," says Mr Duncan Millar.

Fixing price

Fixing the price under any slaughter policy is seen as critical. "If it is too high, it negates any marketing effort. If it is too low then farmers will be upset although I hope they will accept it has to be better than destroying the whole lamb market."

He decided early in the F&M crisis that he would market his own way out of the light lamb problem. "I have 10 extra acres of kale and two extra of turnips at Tirinie. Some of the lambs from the hill units can be finished to 17kg carcasses on that forage.

"But that is the backstop because, for the first time, all the lambs at Auchnafree and Wester Tullich have full organic status, which would be lost by moving them to Tirinie. So, I have got off my backside and gone about finding a system to finish these lambs without losing the organic advantage.

"I have established a profit-sharing contract with two arable farmers in Scotland who have organic clover and, foot-and-mouth rules permitting, I have an outlet in England for store organic lambs," he says.

A source of organic feeds has also been located and it may be possible to finish some Blackface lambs in sheds at Auchnafree. The final marketing of the organic lambs will be through the co-op Highland Glen, which is now handling most of the organic lamb in Scotland.

While the lamb price has been falling, beef returns from Tirinie have been more cheerful. A batch of 10 bulls sold on July 4 averaged £1.03/kg lw compared with 96p for very similar animals at the same time last year. There are a further 23 to be sold by the end of the month.

And the spring barley crops are also looking well. "They have all had a flag-leaf fungicide spray which cost £5/ha and are looking very clean. We were irrigating when the rain came just in time at the end of June. Decanter looks particularly well, but Chalice, at this stage, is less impressive."

Second-cut silage was being harvested this week at Tirinie and, thanks to irrigation in June, promises to be a heavy crop.

High on the Auchnafree hills, grouse will be counted at the end of the month. "It has been a good year for all livestock on the hills this year and we are hopeful on both lamb and grouse crops," says Mr Duncan Millar, who has also been accepting most requests to walk through the hills under his charge. &#42


&#8226 Tirinie, a 129ha (318-acre) mixed arable and stock farm in north-west Perthshire, farmed by Ian Duncan Millar. It has been in the family for 40 years.

&#8226 The land is a mix of sandy loam over gravel near the rivers Tay and Lyon, and medium loam away from rivers.

&#8226 Main arable crop is spring barley for malting and seed contracts. Turnips grown for wintering sheep.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 300 Mule and Texel cross ewes. Lambs are finished and sold through a local lamb marketing group.

&#8226 Suckled calves bought privately from one farm. Males finished intensively, best heifer calves kept for breeding and sold with calves at foot.

&#8226 Farm staff of one, for tractor work.

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