New season lamb checks

1 May 1998

New season lamb checks

NEW-season lambs are arriving for sale in markets in ever-greater numbers, but the progress of many has been checked by bad weather.

Lamb marketings were running with hoggets last week and will now soon form the majority, says the Meat and Livestock Commission.

MLCs Duncan Sinclair says the progress of February- and March-born animals will be hit. With big lamb losses in the hills and uplands possible, the number on offer later in the season could also be less than in 1997, he suggests.

National Sheep Association chief executive John Thorley says: "Ive heard some stories of very big losses. It varies greatly from place to place, but while the number born may have been good, the losses have since been high."

Prices, meanwhile, are barely covering costs of production at the moment, says Mr Thorley. Average auction prices on Monday were 126p/kg, down 4p on the week.

"People that are buying new-season lamb want a good-quality product – its time they started paying for it," he adds.

Butcher Keith Embrey at Bishops Castle, Shrops says lambs are already priced high enough, considering what the public is prepared to pay. Any further rises and consumer resistance will build, especially given the comparatively low beef and pork prices.

Lamb chops are a smaller product, too, so may not look as good value as competitors, says Mr Embrey. "If youve done a days work, you want to eat two."

Recent bad weather means that, after getting a good start, some of the stock has lost condition. "We have to watch what were buying."

As soon as finer weather arrives, farmers will crack on with groundwork and delay selling lambs, says Mr Embrey. "So the supply could temporarily dry up and prices could rise."

The final straw… With forage in short supply, farmers were hoping for an early turnout this spring. It didnt happen and demand for straw has risen at the auctions in the face of cold and wet weather.

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