There is an inevitable degree of risk in chasing markets, particularly given the fluctuation in sheep markets from year to year.
What sometimes looks like a certainty can often turn out the opposite way.
This was the case in spring 2019 – there was a much lower carryover of sheep and an anticipation of a sharp increase in returns.
While you cannot accurately plan on the back of market predictions, there are a few key milestones in the sheep market diary that cannot be ignored
This did not materialise, however, despite the kill for the first 16 weeks of the year falling by a massive figure of over 85,000 head.
While you cannot accurately plan on the back of market predictions, there are a few key milestones in the sheep market diary that cannot be ignored and can present opportunities for some producers. This is fresh in the minds of producers considering last week’s sheep kill of 77,931 head was 19,510 ahead of the next highest kill and will undoubtedly be recorded as the busiest week’s processing in 2021.
The two milestone dates early in the year are Easter and Ramadan.
The Easter market has traditionally provided variable success to early lamb producers but, in the last two years, there have been other factors at play bolstering demand at this time of the year.
Ramadan begins in 2022 on 1 April and ends on 30 April, with the greatest lift in demand witnessed at the start of the festival
Ramadan, which moves forward in the calendar by 10 days each year due to differences in the Georgian and Islamic calendars, has fallen within a two-week window of Easter and is poised to do so again in next year.
Ramadan begins in 2022 on 1 April and ends on 30 April, with the greatest lift in demand witnessed at the start of the festival. Easter Sunday falls a little over two weeks later on 17 April.
If producers are aiming to target this festival, then there is a short window to prepare for breeding. Table 1 details the predicted lambing date, going on various conception dates and also provides a 14-week timeline.
Some intensive producers will have lambs finished earlier and the timeline is just a baseline to demonstrate the need to plan accordingly.
The festival moves forward each year and is expected to take place in 2022 from 9 July to 13 July
The other date that has become much more important in recent years is Eid al-Adha. This has underpinned the strongest demand and highest weekly kill in four out of the last five years, with the one year it didn’t hampered by beef factory protests. The festival moves forward each year and is expected to take place in 2022 from 9 July to 13 July.
Keeping costs in check
While thought should be given to market demand, changing breeding dates to have lambs fit for slaughter at specific times should only be carried out where it will fit into your system and will not leave you exposed to farmgate prices failing to cover what could be potentially higher production costs.
Research has shown that for a high percentage of producers, grass-based production will, on average, deliver the greatest level of return
There is no merit in significantly bringing forward the lambing date if it will only serve to put pressure on facilities, grass supplies and result in potentially higher labour requirement and a big feed bill.
Research has shown that for a high percentage of producers, grass-based production will, on average, deliver the greatest level of return.
The system that typically works best is where the lambing date coincides with a combination of normal grass growth and the potential to build a sufficient reserve to sustain animals until growth rates increase to a level capable of doing so.
If the lambing date is too late, then grass can be harder to manage and end up depressing performance
Lambing too early can result in higher levels of concentrates required to fill any nutritional void, which will also increase labour requirements.
On the flip side, some flocks have started lambing at a much later date, taking feeding costs out of the system. If the lambing date is too late, then grass can be harder to manage and end up depressing performance.
There is no right or wrong system and it is beneficial from time to time to sit down and assess if the system you are implementing remains the most suitable fit. The best system is one that makes the greatest use of the farm’s resources and suits your preferences.
Lambing cull ewes earlier
Some farmers successfully operate a system of identifying aged ewes that are likely to be breeding for their final year and be culled thereafter. These ewes are lambed ahead of the main ewe flock, and ewes and lambs typically receive higher levels of meal supplementation.
This results in ewes generally maintaining a good body condition score and being capable of being drafted for slaughter post-weaning. For some, the system is based on weaning lambs early at eight to 10 weeks of age and finishing lambs intensively.
It is a higher cost system to operate and is usually aimed at having lambs fit for slaughter for the Easter trade.
An extended lambing season also needs to be taken into account, while it is important that the system does not interfere with the main lambing flock in terms of eroding grass supplies.
But where operated successfully, it can have a number of benefits, including improving cashflow early in the season and reducing demand for grass as the main grazing season progresses, which can be particularly beneficial for highly stocked farms and mixed grazing systems where demand for grass increases substantially in the second half of the year.