Tullamore Farm sold the final 18 lambs born in 2020 on 17 December. The lambs, which were marketed through the Offaly Quality Lamb Producer Group and slaughtered in Irish Country Meats Camolin, recorded positive slaughter performance given some of the last two batches sold were tail-end or later-born lambs reared by yearling hoggets and lambs which suffered from odd ailments earlier in the season.

The lambs averaged 43.1kg liveweight and achieved an excellent kill-out of 50%, which was underpinned by the fact they were housed a few weeks previous on ad-lib concentrates. The average price received was €5.60/kg, with an overall sale value of €117.96.

Three lambs faced heavy cuts of up to 50c/kg on the base price of €5.73/kg for being overweight and overfat. This was the only time there was any significant penalty imposed on lambs across the season, with farm manager Shaun Diver again excelling in his lamb selection.

Table 1 details the performance of all 279 lambs drafted for slaughter. This is broken down by each individual batch drafted and is also analysed across the entire number. A very impressive 96.4% of lambs graded 3 for fat score, with just four lambs grading fat score 4 and six lambs grading fat score 2.

This is a vital aspect influencing the sale price, with lambs penalised if they fall outside the desired fat score or exceed the carcase weight limit set for the time of year by in excess of the 1kg leeway allowance. Therefore, the balance when drafting lambs has to look beyond trying to hit maximum weights, with the sale price influenced to a great degree by a combination of carcase weight and fat score.

Limited free meat

Delving deeper into the analysis shows the average carcase weight across lambs was 20.7kg, while the average paid carcase weight was 20.47kg. There was a total of 5,777.9kg of lamb carcase sold, with payment received for some 5,712.9kg of this, meaning there was just 65kg of free meat delivered.

This should be a focus for all farms with a high volume of free sheepmeat coming on to the market, increasing the volume that must be traded. This free sheepmeat is often delivered in the form of significantly overweight carcases, which creates further challenges in marketing this meat and compounds the issue.

Farm manager Shaun Diver picture with Niko is realtively pleased in how the sheep flock performed in 2020.

Sale value

The average price per kilo achieved was €5.44/kg, with the lowest price of €5.21/kg received the first week of August. The average sale value of lambs traded in the factory was €111.31 per head. There were also 57 ewe lambs sold for breeding across three batches of 25, 22 and 10 lambs. The average sale price for these lambs was €111.05, bringing the average across the 336 lambs traded to €111.27.

Table 1 also shows the sales performance for 2020. The liveweight at drafting, carcase weight and kill-out was broadly similar, with performance slightly ahead in 2019. The average price achieved is 49c/kg above 2019 levels.

A component of this higher price is the fact that the farm’s drafting pattern was delayed in 2020, as reflected in Figure 1, and as such a greater percentage of lambs were sold when prices were at a higher level later in the season.

This was influenced by a few factors. Drought forced lambs to be weaned early at 12 to 13 weeks of age on average, with subsequent lamb performance also hit by tight grass supplies and a challenge in maintaining the quality of the low volumes that were present due to grass heading out early.

The other factor that had a major influence on the drafting rate was the fact the farm increased its ewe flock and incorporated 51 two-tooth hoggets and 50 ewe lambs into its breeding flock in 2019. The later lambing date and lower performance of lambs born to these younger sheep also had an influence in pushing the normal drafting rate back.

Reviewing performance

The later drafting rate in 2020 meant the farm ended up feeding a higher volume of concentrates to lambs. The total volume fed was in the region of 12.5t, or approximately 37kg per head. This includes the creep meal fed to lambs suckling yearling hoggets and the 30 odd pets reared artificially, so overall the farm is happy with the performance given the challenges of the year. At a cost of €275/t, the cost of meal works out at a little over €10 per lamb sold off farm.

The number of lambs sold or retained works out in the region of 1.55 lambs across the 242 sheep joined to rams in 2019. The level of mortality from scanning in 2019 through to the last lamb sold is working out at about 18%.

The performance of the three systems of production will be delved into deeper in the coming weeks

This figure may appear high and is one that Shaun is targeting to reduce in 2021. It does have to be highlighted, however, that the scanning rate in the mature ewes was 2.13 lambs per ewe joined, the scanning rate in the hoggets was 1.82 lambs per ewe joined and the scanning rate in the ewe lambs was 1.34 lambs.

The performance of the three systems of production will be delved into deeper in the coming weeks, to get a greater assessment of any differences in mortality across the three age categories and also to review slaughter performance.

Current management

The farm has stuck with the option of breeding ewe lambs for 2021 and there were 165 mature ewes/hoggets joined to the ram in 2020, along with 82 ewe lambs. The mature ewes are currently grazing deferred grass, which was saved to hold ewes outdoors until post-Christmas. Silage has been recently introduced to account for the low dry matter content of grass. Ewe lambs are currently cleaning off paddocks and will receive concentrate supplementation after scanning, which is earmarked for the first week of January. An update of performance will also be detailed after scanning.