Record hogget prices: Hogget prices of €170 to €180, or even higher, have increased to a level that even the most optimistic market forecasters could not have dreamed of.

There is little excuse for plainer-type hoggets earmarked for selling in 2021 that are not ideally suitable for breeding to miss the boat while prices are strong.

Granted, many systems are set-up to carry ewe hoggets to fulfill stocking rate requirements or utilise available grass, but this should not prevent hoggets being critically assessed.

Where you decide to move some hoggets, it is important to put a plan in place so that they are marketed optimally and in the correct time frame. Easter Sunday is 4 April and Ramadan starts nine days later on 13 April and finishes on 12/13 May, with these religious festivals helping to boost demand.

Creep feeding dilemma: With the trade performing so strongly, there are more questions being raised about the merit of creep-feeding lambs to get them drafted at an earlier stage. As current market dynamics show, it is hard to predict exactly how the trade will perform, but sentiments look positive in the medium-term at least. Eid al Adha, which runs from 19-23 July in 2021, has underpinned the highest level of throughput in recent years.

Teagasc studies show creep-feeding has the potential to reduce age to slaughter by 40 days or more where feeding an average of 600g daily and by up to 28 days where feeding 300g. It is important to note that the same studies highlighted good grassland management can deliver comparable levels of lamb performance, with lambs grazing a grass height of 6cm without creep supplementation and a grass height of 5cm when supplemented with 300g per day.

Therefore, the aim should always be to optimise grass quality and use meal strategically. Taking an intake of 600g daily will result in lambs consuming an average of 53kg concentrates. Taking two concentrates costs at €275/t and €320/t for example, it will cost about €14.50/animal and €17/animal respectively to supplement lambs.

Offering ad-lib levels can quickly accumulate in lambs consuming 50% to 100% more concentrates. Therefore, it is vital that lambs offered creep are those that will deliver the greatest response and have the best chance of leaving a positive margin. For many farms, this could mean creep feeding earlier-born lambs or single-suckling lambs.

Some farmers lambing later are also looking at the prospect of reducing meal input costs and possibly selling lambs as stores, with firm market demand likely after this season’s performance.

Tullamore Farm webinar: The first of four virtual events featuring the Irish Farmers Journal Tullamore Farm will be held next Tuesday 23 March and concentrates primarily on the sheep system.

The event will detail an overview of the system along with an update on flock production performance to-date and a run down on lambing 2021, which began on Sunday, is progressing. Key areas of focus include the breeding policy in the flock, performance of lambs and management in early lactation and during the main grazing season.

There will also be a veterinary discussion looking at topical health issues and a snapshot of performance recording in the flock. The event, which is supported by AXA Insurance, ESB Networks and MSD Animal Health, is free to view here and runs from 8.30pm to 9.30pm.