A lesson in maximising lamb kill-out prices

Regular weighing and monitoring are key to good factory lamb prices

To maximise lamb price, weighing and monitoring are key. Photo: Roger Jones.
To maximise lamb price, weighing and monitoring are key. Photo: Roger Jones.

Tom Coll

Regular weighing and handling of lambs along with monitoring how the previous week's lambs killed out enable Co Sligo-based Sean Conway to produce a consistent product and maximise lamb price.

Sean aims to produce a good R3 or U3 grade lamb with a carcase as near to the weekly factory cut off pay weight as possible.

The majority of lambs (91pc) sold off the Conway farm are slaughtered in Irish Country Meats, Navan, Co Meath, with the remainder sold as stores in the local mart.

Of all lambs slaughtered this year, 93.5pc of lambs were in the ideal fat class 3 - 40pc of these were U grades and 53pc R grades.

Similar to last year, the U3 grade lambs achieved the highest price of €103.86. Likewise, when drafted at similar weights lambs that graded R2 had the lightest carcase weight and lowest price at €94.56.

The message is clear: under -fleshed lambs will have poorer kill out percentages leading to lighter carcases and lower lamb prices.

Fortunately for Sean, only 3pc of his lambs fell into this category. Lambs of fat class 4 generally exceed the weekly pay weight and are uneconomical to retain on the farm especially if they are consuming concentrates.

This year, due to poor grass growth in mid-summer and a decline in lamb performance, concentrates were introduced to the remaining lambs on the farm for finishing around mid-August. Concentrates fed per lamb sold amounted to €3.40.

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In total 39 Belclare cross ewe lambs were retained for breeding. They were grass-fed only and range in weight from 48-62kgs with an average weight of 55kgs. Lambs sold/retained per mature ewe put to the ram was 1.68 compared to 1.60 in 2014 and 1.33 in 2013.

Body condition

Sean attributes the increase in lamb output per ewe to ewes being in better body condition at mating and introducing Belclare cross ewes.

Overall average lamb price for lambs sold in 2015 was €100.32 compared to €95.76 in 2014 and €94.65 in 2013. Sean has been increasing his output per ewe by producing more lambs and increasing the average lamb sale price.

Sean is looking at the pros and cons of a new sheep house. Under TAMSII, a 40pc grant is available for sheep housing.

The plan would be to build a suitable shed to accommodate 200 ewes. Housing the ewes would facilitate the closing off of paddocks and a build up of grass for spring grazing.

Sean could also make the best use of the high quality 75+ DMD silage that he has consistently made over the summer months from grass cut from paddocks that became too high for grazing.

High wastage has been a problem when this silage was fed to out-wintered ewes in feeders. Sean feels that the labour input and lamb losses would be reduced by lambing ewes indoors.

Based on the Department's TAMSII costings, a slatted shed to accommodate 200 ewes allowing 1.1sqm slatted area per ewe and 0.45m concentrate feed space/ewe would cost €445 per ewe or €285 per ewe when the 40pc grant is claimed.

Costings are based on a six bay shed with a 4m central passage and 3.65m slatted area each side and a 1.8m deep tanks with agitation points on either side.

A second option would be to build a five bay straw bedded house with a 4m wide central passage and 5.5m deep laying areas on each side. This shed would cost €270 per ewe or €162 per ewe space with the 40pc TAMSII grant.

Tom Coll is a Teagasc advisor based based in Mohill, Co Leitrim email: tom.coll@teagasc.ie

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