Breed information must stand up to scrutiny
A ll in all, 2010 was not a bad year for sheep farmers. Lamb prices were up from an average of €3.75/kg in 2009 to €4.38 -- an increase of 63c or €12.50 for a 20kg carcass. Mid-season producers fared best as lamb prices increased by €15-€20 from the end of June onwards. Cull ewe prices were up €20 to €25 a head.
There was great demand for both breeding ewes and ewe lambs. Wool is now making €1.20/kg compared to 60c/kg this time last year. Now, at least the wool covers the cost of shearing.
The increase in lamb prices was a consequence of not just the reduced slaughterings here but also in the main sheep-producing states across Europe. Lamb slaughterings in Ireland were back 9pc this year. However, this reduction is camouflaged by a large number of lambs coming down from Northern Ireland. The plants there experienced a massive 40pc reduction in lamb slaughterings compared with 2009.
The prospects for the coming year seem reasonably good. The decline in production across Europe is expected to continue. The New Zealand lamb crop is down 2.5pc on last spring. It must also be recognised that lamb consumption within the EU is declining but at a slower rate than production.
The big issue is the current financial constraints being experienced by consumers right across Europe and the effect this will have on lamb prices. Nobody in the trade is prepared to hazard a guess.
It is likely that there will be a significant increase in production costs over the coming year, especially in meal, fertilisers and fuel. While there is a degree of optimism around we must continue to improve output and/or reduce costs. For years farmers were claiming that there was little point to improving output because lamb prices were too low to warrant the additional effort.
At this year's lamb prices, each 0.1 increase in weaning rate will increase margins by €8-9 per ewe. Increasing the weaning rate on lowland flocks from the current average (around 1.3 lambs per ewe) to 1.5 lambs per ewe will add nearly €20 per ewe. This amount of money cannot be sneezed at.
It is essential that all information regarding sheep breeds and breeding is able to stand up to the strictest interrogation and scrutiny. In this respect I came across some information during the year that I question.