Plain lamb market triggers a warning

By Simon Wragg

AS grass keep declines in quality, the first plain lambs lacking sufficient finish are being marketed, pushing down returns to producers. Creep feeding, although necessary, is unlikely to pay.

A complete days entry without a single heavy lamb triggered the first rush of light lambs at Frome, comments auctioneer Chris Reeks. In general, quality was down following the recent rain leading to almost two-thirds of the 540 lambs entered weighing between 32.1-39kg.

The advice to producers must be to try and get lambs in between 39-44kg with enough finish on their backs, he says. Heavier lambs are in greatest demand and with the trade for light lambs around 36kg – mainly for export trade – steadying, heavier sorts will bring the highest returns, says Mr Reeks.

His views are shared by Bury based Peter Crichton who also witnessed the first lighter sorts through the Suffolk-based outlet Hill Farm Sheep. “Its about the right time for them; its Wimbledon week and normally dry as a bone. The odd lamb is losing its back mainly because grazing hasnt the goodness in it.”

As large numbers continue to come forward, prices are unlikely to improve, believes Mr Crichton. More pressure on lighter sorts will continue as export markets slacken, especially given the relaxed values being seen in France taking the edge off the current market.

“Overall, prime prices have mirrored last years pattern, although the decline has been quicker. Last July and August the price was £1.05p/kg and 95p/kg, respectively. We are already looking at an SQQ of 85p/kg,” explains Mr Crichton.

And with returns suffering, some producers may start thinking of hanging on to lambs. If so they should think again, he warns. Lambs are likely to lay down fat rather than finish. “Were going to be seeing more O and P carcasses rather than E and Us. Killing out %s will start to slide from 50% to 46% reducing returns further.”

The culmination of these factors underpins the need to even out numbers at auctions to bring some stability to the market, says NSAs John Thorley. He urges finishers to continue sending lambs when fit. “Some could be tempted to hang on to them until they put meat on, but those with early lambing types must get them off as soon as they are ready.”

To do that, creep feeding may be considered. But Mr Reeks says with prices down at 87p/kg it is not economically viable. “Even if you took at a 44kg lamb making £40 and a 36kg light type at £31.50, the cost of creep will be £6-£10 will make little or no margin.”

If light lambs continue to enter the market, prices will be pulled down further. “The SQQ is largely based on liveweight sales, so it doubly important for all producers that those entered into the livestock market are top-quality,” adds Mr Thorley.

By contrast, grass-keep is still seeing lambs finish in the north. According to Roy Hall at Wooler market, Humbs, numbers are still building and few light lambs are expected until the store sale season approaches.

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