Sales are time to invest in good breeding stock
Weekly sales of about 100
lambs and annual subsidy
income have made the past
month a time of positive
cash flow at Kings Arms.
But Robert and Caroline
Dalrymple aim to improve
output and that means
spending on breeding stock
and grassland improvement.
Allan Wright reports
ROBERT and Caroline Dalrym-ple travel to Ingliston, near Edinburgh, at the end of this week for the annual sale of Suffolk ram lambs. It is the breeds premier event and record prices and many five-figure bids will probably be the order of the day.
But the Dalrymples are buying much further down the price list. "Our target is an average of about 500gns because it is possible to buy from top flocks at that level. Breeders send their top animals to Edinburgh but not all suit the pedigree market and there is scope for commercial lamb producers to buy quality stock at reasonable prices," says Mr Dalrymple.
Estimated breeding values (EBVs) for growth rate and lean meat are important in his ram selection, but he pays no attention to scrapie resistance. "Its a disease we have never seen at Kings Arms so resistance is not important to us," he says.
The Dalrymples have to buy at Edinburgh because the big Kelso sale at the start of September comes too late to get rams acclimatised before they go to work on Sept 24.
Texel shearling rams will be bought at Kelso. Shearlings take less time to settle in and the Texels are put out to ewes slightly later than Suffolks. Replacement mule ewe lambs will be bought at Castle Douglas where Mr Dalrymple buys at the top end of the market.
Home-bred Texel cross ewe lambs are retained for breeding so only one-third of total flock replacements have to be bought in, allowing careful selection and top prices for mules.
The other current major expenditure at Kings Arms is on renewing two fields of grass. Carryover silage and heavy first cut this year will allow two fields rather than one to be reseeded.
"We estimate the total at about £185 an acre. But grass is our raw material and the quality has to be right if we are to get the level of output we expect," says Mr Dalrymple.
"We keep hearing stories about how lambs are not finishing this season. It has not been a problem here and we have more sold at the end of July than at this time last year. We put most of that down to high grazing quality."
Lamb sales have been pushing forward to get as many away as possible before the expected price drop in August. "In fact it came at the end of July with a £3 fall in one week. But we have marketed 1228 compared with 1095 at the same time last year and prices, generally, have been satisfactory," he says.
Until the third week in July, the Kings Arms lamb price was averaging about £50 but then fell to £44.50. Weekly returns also indicate a £3 premium for Texel crosses compared with their Suffolk cross counterparts. Some, but not all, of the difference can be put down to the Texel lambs being slightly heavier.
However, earlier in the season it was the Suffolk crosses which brought the higher returns as they responded best to creep feeding.
The weather has not been kind in recent weeks. Clipping was spread over a full fortnight to catch dry days. And the price was up from 62p/ewe to 65p this year.
Wind and rain has also meant that the first reseed field is behind schedule. "The wind meant we had to delay burning down an area next to a neighbours field of barley. We now have it all burned and spread with farm yard manure but it has been too wet to plough."
August will see the start of creep feeding of spring-born beef calves to maintain progress and cow condition. Meanwhile, the cows and calves are on hill ground and looking extremely well.
The Dalrymples are waiting to see if they can repeat last years performance and be among the very first to be paid the first advance of sheep annual premium and less favoured area supplement. The SAP advance will be £5.45/ewe and the LFA supplement £4.64 which, in total is about 30p/ewe more than last year. The Scottish Office has said payment will be completed by the end of August.
"At the end of June there were suckler cow premium and beef special premium cheques and there has been regular income from lamb sales. But there are long winter months when nothing is coming in and we are now into a time of expenditure," says Mr Dalrymple. *
Spring-born calves look well. On lower land, good grazing has allowed Robert Dalrymple to finish a greater number of lambs early this year.