Winter prospects look bleak for hill flocks

6 July 2001




Winter prospects look bleak for hill flocks

By Marianne Curtis

LACK of movement possibilities for hill lambs due to foot-and-mouth could have a big impact on welfare and breeding sheep availability this winter unless DEFRA acts soon.

Many hill farms are caught in restricted areas. The prospect of no store lamb and breeding stock sales this summer and autumn will add pressure to already fragile feed resources and severely dent cashflow, says Alastair Davy, spokesman for the Hill Farming Initiative.

"The only way out for restricted farms is to sell lambs finished. But many hill farms traditionally sell breeding sheep and store lambs and are not properly equipped for finishing."

Mr Davy is carrying 60 breeding heifers, which he would have usually sold in spring as well as this years calf crop and 800 purebred Swaledale and Swaledale cross Suffolk lambs on his farm in Swaledale.

"In previous years, store lambs would be sold from July onwards. This year some hill producers may be faced with finishing lambs, including ewe lambs destined for breeding and selling them at low prices to maintain cashflow for the bank.

"Many farms holding last years crop of animals are baling hay to feed directly to stock."

That could present serious welfare problems next winter as farms run short of feed, warns independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings. "Stock are backed up on hill farms eating next winters feed now.

"A welfare disposal scheme must pay at least £1/kg for lambs to make it attractive to producers, otherwise lambs will remain on farms, jeopardising next winters ewe feed supply.

"But the last thing we need is for ewe lambs required for breeding to go on a welfare disposal scheme.

"Once infected premises are cleaned up they could provide valuable overwintering facilities for ewe lambs, when DEFRA gives the go ahead for restocking."

While many hill sheep farms concentrate on producing breeding stock, longer term there is a chance to produce heavier lambs, which command higher prices, believes Farmer Focus contributor Giles Henry. "Some Scottish Blackface producers who have focused on breeding larger sheep can produce purebred lambs weighing 18kg."

But too much emphasis is often placed on breeding for prolificacy at the expense of size, he says. "More should consider using a terminal sire on some ewes because trying to sell a 12kg lamb is not going to work in future."

But in some regions there remains a domestic market for light lambs. &#42 M Bennett, a processor based in Powys has successfully marketed half lambs from 11.5-14kg Welsh Mountain carcasses to Safeway since 1998.

Between July last year and this June it processed 30,000 lambs, says the firms director, Juliet Davies.

"In large areas of Wales sheep numbers have been decimated by F&M so I do not expect oversupply. Two years ago the light lamb export trade was hit by fears over BSE and there wont be as many lambs around as there were then, so producers should not become too despondent.

"Prices are £2/kg deadweight for a standard lamb, similar to last year." It is worth contacting abattoirs to ascertain demand, she says. &#42

HILL SHEEP PROSPECTS

&#8226 Limited sales.

&#8226 Government action needed.

&#8226 Aim to finish lambs.

HILL SHEEP PROSPECTS

&#8226 Limited sales.

&#8226 Government action needed.

&#8226 Consider finishing lambs.


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