Are farmers being fleeced for clean lambs?

The Clean Livestock Policy is undoubtedly a good thing, but we need more clarity on how some meat plants are implementing it, writes Andrew Kinsella

Delvin Mart. Sheep for sale at the mart. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Delvin Mart. Sheep for sale at the mart. Picture; Gerry Mooney

Andrew Kinsella

I am compelled to relate my experience of selling the last few lambs from this year’s lamb crop. It was not a pleasant occurrence and raises questions about the Clean Livestock Policy for sheep as operated in some meat plants.

The lambs are normally sold through the local producer group to ICM Camolin but as my neighbour, who normally does the transporting, and myself had a number of overfat lambs we went elsewhere as the plant in question was offering a flat price.

In total there were 13 lambs, of which four had been reared indoors on straw bedding since their birth, while nine had been grass fed. The lambs went to the alternate factory on the evening of November 5 — a very wet day — for killing the next day.

As usual the payment documents arrived a few days later but this time it was unusual in that the deductions included a clipping charge of €2/lamb — €26 in total.

Granted, the outdoor lambs were wet on loading and I could see that a few of the lambs (a maximum of four — all Suffolk cross) had soiled rears and may have required dagging.

However, the remaining five outdoor lambs (Charollais and Belclare cross) were perfectly clean.

The indoor lambs were totally dry when loaded.

The amount of money involved is not large but it is the principle that worries me.

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Firstly, I did not receive any communication whatsoever from the meat plant indicating that these lambs required clipping pre-slaughter and the available options that I had. I may well have taken any culprit lambs home and clipped them myself.

Secondly, I am at a loss to know why all the lambs in a pen require clipping when only a few are soiled.

A number of other farmers have had a similar experience. Do lambs require clipping now because they are wet? But then, some of these lambs were dry. Under this practice, the reductions would be serious if there were three or four soiled lambs in a consignment of 40 or 50.

Thirdly, who selects the animals for trimming/shearing? All I received was a hand-written squiggle on the returns sheet citing a ‘clipping charge for dirty sheep’.

In the interests of trust and clarity, the farmer returns should include information regarding number of animals clipped, tag numbers, cleanliness category, etc signed off by a Department of Agriculture official.

Fourthly, I believe that €2/lamb price is excessive for clipping. Most of us are able to get our ewes weighing 70-80kg shorn for the same amount and shearing is a more arduous task than clipping. Maybe these animals were shorn, but all I received was the squiggle ‘clipping charge for dirty sheep’.

Finally, I would not have gone down the road of writing this article if I could have had some discussion with staff from the factory in question and my questions and issues addressed. I did try. All the above issues stem from a lack of communication and clarity.

Sheep producers, like all farmers, are food producers and it is only right that there is a Clean Livestock Policy in operation. Should somebody become ill from eating contaminated lamb, we are all ruined.

However, for its proper implementation we do need clarity and clearly defined operating protocols.


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