Scottish sheep farmers look to improve performance and prices

A disappointing return on sheep born in 2012 has sparked debate amongst Scottish farmers on how to improve current low prices, as discussed at the Moray and Nairn monitor farm meeting at Cluny.

The 2012-born lambs have disappointed many Scottish sheep farmers, including monitor farmer Robbie Newlands, when it comes to both performance and prices.

Newlands, who farms with his wife and father, attended the meeting at Cluny, a 1060 acre unit near Forres, where sheep management options for improving prices were discussed.

The sheep enterprise is based on a flock of 650 Mules, crossed with Suffolk and terminal sire hybrid tups, with all progeny finished. There were 200 lambs left at Cluny in January, despite Newlands’ aim of having all lambs away before Christmas.

Stuart Annand, Scottish sheep strategy development officer with Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), commented: “A more structured approach to flock dynamics and how we manage sub groups within the flock is required to harness greater efficiencies inside the farm gate.”

Annand also discussed challenges farmers cannot control, including weather, exchange rates, competition from imported meat and consumer price resistance.

Although lambing usually starts in April, Newlands was encouraged to start around mid-March and was encouraged to condition score ewes at scanning and start feeding the thinner ones.

“This will give you the best return on feeding in-lamb ewes,” explained Annand. “By improving the condition of thin ewes during pregnancy, you’re sustaining the ewe as well as boosting her milking and lamb rearing ability. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so weigh and handle lambs more often to better understand the cause of poorer liveweight gains. Daily gains in excess of 400g (2.8kg liveweight per week) are achievable on grass when all pieces are in place.”

Annand also encouraged sheep farmers to consider a marketing strategy to match demands and took the example of a 21kg carcase that did not fit the market.

He explained: “This season the same financial value per lamb could have been achieved by marketing lambs at lighter weights, earlier in the season. Sound terminal sire genetics selected from performance recorded rams, targeted for growth, could help achieve this.”

QMS leads the national programme of monitor farms, that Cluny is a part of.


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