Marketing cull ewes: The cull ewe trade continues to benefit from relatively tight supplies but a major factor benefitting the trade recently is competition from a number of sources. The trade for good quality, large-framed heavy carcase ewes and medium-weight, well-conformed ewes is being driven by buyers purchasing ewes for exporting live or in carcase form.

This is driving competition with factory buyers who in general are in the market for a lighter-type ewe. To get the maximum possible return requires ewes being marketed to suit these different market avenues.

Mart managers report that ewes poorly batched on weight, flesh cover and type deter interest from some buyers and do not entice buyers in the market for heavy-carcase ewes.

A similar conundrum is present where producers normally trade ewes direct to the factory. In the past, the market value for ewes slaughtered above the carcase weight cut-off limit, which typically ranges from 40kg to 45kg across plants, was not significantly different to returns if sold live. However, the fact that there is now demand for such ewes has opened up a significant differential.

It is true that it is a relatively small percentage of ewes realising prices at the top end of the market, but it is still worth reviewing the type of ewes on hand and weighing up what is the most lucrative outlet. It is also worth confirming what the carcase weight cut-off point is with factories before committing to a sale.

Lamb castration decisions: Ram lambs can achieve a higher daily liveweight gain and better feed conversion efficiency than wether lambs. A significant challenge for some producers as the year progresses is getting the required flesh cover on lambs. In a normal year this is offset by introducing concentrates to finish lambs but the attractiveness of this proposition has waned considerably, with meal costing upwards of €450/t.

It is worth reviewing your normal finishing programme in light of these challenges. In many cases the current practice of supplementing lambs may be deemed optimum, but there is always merit in assessing if decisions can be implemented that might better the system. Lambs should only be left entire where the farm infrastructure allows for them to be grazed on their own as the season progresses.

A good balance being adopted by some farmers is leaving stronger lambs entire and castrating lighter or late-born lambs that will struggle to finish off grass later in the season. The burdizzo method of castration is the only method available to farmers after lambs turn seven days of age and this must be carried out before lambs reach three months of age.

Where lambs are destined to be castrated, carrying out the practice before lambs are at an advanced stage of maturity will help to prevent possible setbacks in performance. Clostridial disease vaccination is important pre-castration, along with blowfly prevention treatment.

In terms of market opportunities the Islamic festival of Eid Al-Adha takes place this year from 9 to 13 July. Live export demand has been variable in recent years for the market, but the festival will continue to underpin the highest levels of throughput in the factory calendar and should be noted by producers.