Every year, as lamb producers, we should ask our lambs – “what are you still doing here?” If there is a well justified answer, then good. If not, they should be out the gate.
There are many factors to be considered. Every situation is different and every year is different, however, a few key underlying fundamentals always exist;
Consider the entire sheep enterprise. Obviously the first concern will be whether the lambs are at a point that meets the market you were aiming for? If you sell lambs destined for slaughter, they will desirably be at least 18kg carcass weight (approx. 42kg live). If your lambs are not at this stage, do you have the feed available (quantity and quality) to take them to slaughter weights?
Perhaps despite what your original plan was, you should be considering the option of selling them as store lambs? Knowing which market you are supplying is the first step but you still need to decide when to sell them.
The lambs aren’t the only sheep on your place however. There are the ewes that gave you these lambs who are expected to give you the lambs next year as well. Don’t forget about these as they are the engine room of your whole enterprise. Secondly, but no less importantly, don’t forget to look after the replacement ewes either. We know that ewe condition at joining is critical to lambing percentages and therefore it may be more beneficial to allocate current surplus feed to ewes rather than chasing kilos on lambs.
The contrast between the springs of 2014 and 2015 compared to this year are fairly spectacular. Rainfall at Mortlake, for example, was 88mm for August, September and October in 2015 compared with 260mm for the same three months this year. In 2015, there was 5 days over 30deg C and another 10 days over 25deg. This year has not seen one day in October above 25!
Last year, many people were rightly concerned about the failing spring and lack of potential for grass, especially good quality grass. Many sold lambs as stores early or sold lighter finished lambs rather than trying to add more weight. This year it is perceived that there is considerably less pressure to act early. In fact, there is a risk that people will not even be evaluating their stock or the market conditions and therefore possibly missing opportunities to sell lambs.
Processor prices are currently at around $4.80 to $5.20 per kg for 18 to 32kg carcass weight. Light store lambs are regularly making more than $7.00/kg (based on 12 – 15kg carcass weight). In this current climate that means that a 15kg carcass lamb is worth about $100. At the same time, a 20kg carcass lamb at the processor is also worth about $100. This situation is a reflection on a very strong store market and the fact that many people with excess grass want something (in fact anything) to eat it.
All we suggest before you jump into keeping, or perhaps even buying something with a mouth and heartbeat (seem to be the main criteria at the moment given the “grass fever” getting around) to consume your surplus grass.... STOP! Consider the fact that you are not going to get paid for adding 5kg to a current 15kg carcass store lamb. Not only that, but carrying a lamb for a longer period may also incur costs such as vaccinations, drenching, crutching, shearing, supplementary feed etc. These costs can quickly destroy any potential profit while you hang onto lambs trying to achieve higher weights.
It could well be another season to sell store lambs early again and better allocate the surplus grass to ewes, cattle, hay? When working out when to sell lambs, remember to consider your individual circumstances but most importantly;
how much can I get now
how much can I get later
how much will it cost to take it there.
Don’t leave it too late to assess your own situation and find lambs still at your place when they should have left weeks ago. A bird in the hand is always worth 2 in the bush.