Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Insert sponges now for December-January lambing


John Shirley

One of the drawbacks of smaller flocks is the difficulty of assembling decent numbers of lambs at the one draft to make it worthwhile going to a mart or meat plant.

My first draw this year ranged from 19kg to 26.6kg carcass weight within a bunch of 10 lambs. As per usual, the meat factory paid for nothing above 22kg. This meant a ceiling price of €107.80/lamb -- or just under €107/lamb after the deductions of 50c for the Department of Agriculture vets, 25c for Bord Bia and 12c for the IFA.

If I had got organised and sold the lambs three weeks earlier, I reckon they would have returned more money for less carcass. Then, the price was €5.70/kg and even a 20kg carcass would have netted just over €113.

The other alternative was to sell the lambs in a mart and hope that some butchers would take a fancy to them.

Other farmers tell me of butchers, both locally and as far away as Cork and Kerry, who are looking for lambs of 48-50kg liveweight. Speaking to one of these butchers who seeks out carcases of about 25kg (for which he pays the full price up to the full weight), he explained how his customers want the bigger loin chops that come from the heavier carcass.


Also, he is able to split the heavier legs to two, which are easier to sell than the one-bit joint. The butcher did add that the heavier lambs must be good quality and not over-fat, and not rams with strong testicles.

And yet the exporters and Bord Bia tell us that most customers, and especially French buyers, want lambs as low as 18kg carcass weight.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see Bord Bia reporting that Irish lamb and sheepmeat consumption had increased in recent months despite the record prices.

If this can be borne out, it is significant news. It is good for the longer-term future of sheep farming that people are not willing to live all the time on bland pork and chicken.

But what about the immediate price prospects for lambs? Next we will have flock-owners holding back ewe lambs for breeding. Also, Ramadan begins earlier this year on August 1. It all adds up to my conclusion that the lamb price fall this summer has bottomed out and that farmers should try to draw a line in the sand at about €5/kg.

Easter, that other great festival that promotes lamb consumption, falls early next year, with Easter Sunday on April 8.

Working back from that date, you would need to have lambs on the ground in late December/early January. If you need to sponge ewes, to have them lambing at that time, the sponges would need to go in this week.


A sponge/PMS supplier told me that demand this year is well up on last year, but then added, "that wouldn't be hard".

To date, we have got by without having to treat for flystrike, but this will not last. Novartis, which has the anti-flystrike pour-on market to itself, has made several changes to its products.

The dilemma is what to use on lambs that are close to slaughter. Vetrazin has a new formulation which includes a 28-day meat withdrawal, but this new product has been put on the Irish market. However, if you have some old Vetrazin product, the three-day withdrawal still applies to this.

CliK remains on the market with 40 days meat withdrawal and 16 weeks cover. So, for lambs close to slaughter, the choice is between Vector, with six-week cover and seven-day withdrawal, or the new Novartis product CliKzin, which also has six-week cover and seven-day withdrawal. Vector has the advantage to killing maggots already on the sheep.

John Shirley is a drystock farmer from Rathoe, Co Carlow

Indo Farming