Unfinished lambs fail to achieve best returns

Under-finished lambs are making it to market in significant numbers, causing producers to miss out financially.

Last winter’s terrible weather conditions have continued to have an impact on the lamb crop this year, according to Eblex selection specialist Steve Powdrill.

The information is based on feedback from abattoirs, which are “seeing a large number of lambs coming forward that haven’t finished well off grass and are achieving low killing-out percentages and failing to meet target specification”, Powdrill said.

“Many of this season’s lambs had a poor start in life, as they were born into a cold environment to ewes who struggled to produce sufficient milk, due to the lack of available grass.”

He noted that producers may have many reasons for rushing lambs to slaughter quickly, yet indications are that finishing options are not being looked at closely enough. As a result, things like supplementary feed are being missed and lambs are not achieving the best possible return.

Eblex/Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) senior analyst Paul Heyhoe claimed the trend was visible through British auction market data. He said there was a significant increase in lambs falling into the lower weight bands.

“The number of lambs in the light (25.5kg-32kg) weight band was 20% higher on the year while superlight (17kg-25.4kg) numbers were a massive 76% higher, suggesting that many of these lambs weren’t finished,” he said.

Poor weights are having a bad impact on trade in general, he added and explained that September saw liveweight prices down by 3p/kg on last year’s levels.

Yet Powdrill said using weight alone as the measurement of a lamb’s market quality should be done cautiously.

“While it’s vital that producers ensure that lambs are finished before marketing them, it’s equally important to ensure they do not become over-fat,” he said.


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