19 June 1998

New tack for deadweight


The closure of Banbury

livestock market means

lambs are being sold

deadweight for the first time

from one Oxon farm,

requiring a new approach to

drawing and grading.

Simon Wragg reports

DRAWING lambs twice a week and paying greater attention to level of finish is helping one Oxon producer secure the best price for his lambs now being sold deadweight following the closure of Banbury livestock market.

Robert Nunneley, who farms in partnership with his mother, Jean, and brother, Tim, recognises the variation in lamb weights and level of finish which can go unnoticed in the auction ring will be highly visible, and unacceptable, on the abattoir hook when selling dead-weight.

Until the closure of Banbury market in early June, lambs were drawn weekly from the 500-ewe Suffolk X Mule flock at 368ha (909-acre) Hornton Grounds, Banbury. Lambs were marked according to weight, allowing pens of lambs between 34-36kg, 36-38kg and 38-40kg liveweight to be presented for buyers.

"In the market there are buyers looking for light and heavier lambs," says Mr Nunneley, "but selling deadweight theres effectively only one buyer." The deadweight requirement is for a 35-36kg liveweight lamb, ideally conformation class E, U and R, which will grade 2-3L, although some 3H lambs are acceptable for the export market.

To meet the stricter criteria lambs are drawn more regularly with greater attention being paid to light lambs.

"A 34kg light lamb with sufficient finish and being fed on creep will achieve a liveweight gain of 0.4kg/day. That extra weeks gain of 2.5-3.0kg would produce a fat lamb which would be penalised – its better to forward it light," says Mr Nunneley.

Local livestock co-operative grader Richard Dorrell is helping Mr Nunneley get used to grading lambs for the deadweight market. Fat cover along the back, across the corrugations of the loin and around the tail-head are felt to provide an idea of the level of finish and potential carcass grade.

By comparing their assessment of lambs with the carcass grades returned from the abattoir, its possible to see whether Mr Nunneley is over or under-estimating finish on lambs – a comparison which hasnt been possible under the liveweight system which often lacks direct feedback from buyers or abattoirs, says Mr Dorrell.

"Weve got the grades back from the first draw, and can see that theres only the odd 4L graded lamb – the majority drawn are within the 2-3H range thats wanted. Roberts not far out with his grading," says Mr Dorrell.

Selling deadweight should see a reduction in the number of light and/or heavy lambs marketed in this years lamb crop, says Mr Nunneley. This is because they can be drawn several times a week and dispatched instead of waiting for the next market day.

This will require closer attention to be paid to withdrawal periods for treatments such as worm drenches and careful handling to ensure carcasses are presented in optimum condition, says Mr Dorrell.

Bruising of the carcass caused by mishandling – pulling the fleece and not guiding by the tail and head, abscess wounds from dirty syringes and even dog bites -are common and easily seen on the hook, he adds. "These will all incur penalties. Lambs finished indoors are particularly vulnerable as theyre not as hardy."

Against the risk of penalties, there are several benefits to the new selling system. Firstly, once drawn lambs will be handled less as theres no need for splitting and penning at the market which should reduce stress, says Mr Nunneley.

Secondly, provision of carcass grades will play a significant part in improving future lamb crops. "We hope to tag all lambs next year to allow the identification of which Suffolk sires used on our Mule ewes are giving the greatest improvement in carcass quality," he says.

Selling deadweight

* Narrow target weight band

* Fat lambs unacceptable

* No bruising or abscesses

* Better feedback from buyer

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