Farm Ireland

Sunday 9 December 2018

Sheep farmers bid for slice of Wild Atlantic action with new brand for hill lamb

Food for thought: Brendan Joyce, chairman of Hill Farmers for Action, TDs Sean Kyne and Eamon O’Cuiv, and John Moran at the meeting in Maam Cross.
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Sheep farmers aim to cash in on the success of the Wild Atlantic Way by developing a specific market for west coast mountain lamb.

An initiative backed by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers' Association (INHFA), Kepak and Bord Bia will see around 400 hill lambs a week killed for the trade.

The lamb is being marketed as Atlantic Hill Lamb, with outlets identified in Italy and Scandinavia.

Brendan Joyce of INHFA announced the plan at the farm body's annual general meeting in Sligo last week, with the supply contract officially kicking off on August 1.

The lambs will be killed at Kepak Athleague, with the organising and administration of supplies undertaken by the INHFA office in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo.

Mr Joyce said the launch of the marketing strategy was the culmination of a lengthy period of research and trials.

He pointed out that more than 100 light lambs a week were killed and supplied to outlets in Italy and Norway over the past 12 months.

"Those lambs were offered to various markets where feedback was collated and that showed what the market required," Mr Joyce said.

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He said buyers wanted an O2 lamb of 10kg to 15kg carcass weight, although most are killing out in the 12-13kg range.

Having the correct fat cover on the lamb is crucial, Mr Joyce explained, and may require some supplementary feeding."Previous light lamb marketing efforts failed because too many of the lambs didn't meet the specifications," he said.

With this in mind the INHFA are holding a series of information meetings in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo and Connemara from next week to explain to farmers what type of lamb is being sought.

Mr Joyce is confident that ample supplies of light lamb will be available for the contract since just 20,000 head will be needed this year.

"This is a small contract but it is an emerging market and one that could have huge potential," he said.

He said there are 600,000 hill ewes in the national flock, with the bulk of the lambs being sold either as stores or to cross with lowland stock to produce breeding ewes.

Prices for the contract will be around €5/kg.

A Bord Bia statement said: "These markets value Ireland's extensive and sustainable production systems and the unique taste of Irish light lamb.

"The Hill Sheep sector plays an integral part in the development of the Irish sheep industry. "According to the 2016 National Sheep Census, of the 36,216 sheep farmers in Ireland, some 39pc or 13,974 are hill sheep farmers. Together they account for 45pc of the national flock or 1.75million head."

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