AUSTRALIAN sheep producers are being advised to treat the new lamb definition as breathing space for lambs breaking permanent teeth just before or during transit to saleyards or processors.
There is some industry confusion about how the new definition will work, but Sheep Producers Australia has released a video which clearly describes its practical application.
The current definition of lamb is a female, castrate or entire male that has no permanent incisor teeth. The new definition will be an ovine animal that is under 12 months of age, or does not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear. It will apply to ovine animals that are slaughtered on or after 1 July 2019.
The SPA video narrator said it takes an average of about 27 days for erupted permanent incisors to be in wear, but this can be less if the lambs are supplementary fed. It also advises producers act quickly to get lambs to processors when a lamb’s permanent teeth start to erupt.
Lambs with no permanent teeth, or one or two permanent teeth below the level of the remaining baby teeth, will be classed as lamb under the new definition. Those with erupted permanent teeth above the remaining baby teeth will be defined as hoggets.
Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association chairman Warren Johnston said the industry is ready for the lamb definition change, although there needs to be more education and communication “just to get everyone on the same page.”
“There are still some really grey areas as to what’s right and what’s wrong.
“How far has that teeth got to be before it is deemed as a hogget?” he said.
“How many days from the time a lamb cuts its teeth have you got until it is deemed a hogget?”
He said discussion around the 27-day period is creating a bit of uncertainty among some producers.
TFI national livestock manager – sheep and lambs, Paul Leonard, said the video is very clear about what is a lamb or a hogget under the new definition. He understood the idea behind the new definition was to protect producers who mouth lambs on a certain day and then have some erupt teeth in the following days before they get to market or the processor.
“It should be a tool for – if they look like they are just about to break, get them in over the hooks or into the saleyards asap.
“But at least now, after the 1st July, you won’t be penalised with one starting to cut through or erupting, whereas before you would have been,” he said.
“Anyone who runs the gauntlet for 20 days, I think you are really playing with fire – I don’t think that is in good faith with the reasons for changing the definition.
“It is really commonsense – it is not necessarily a licence to run the gauntlet and then risk being penalised,” Mr Leonard said.
Most lambs to be marketed as soon as they are ready
Stock agents contacted by Sheep Central variously suggested that most producers would not and shouldn’t attempt to test the 27-day average, but would aim to market lambs as soon as possible after permanent teeth erupt.
At Ballarat in Victoria, TB White and Sons livestock manager Xavier Bourke said with the current prices producers would be more likely to market lambs as soon as possible. He said there is no talk among producers about using the period up to teeth in wear to wait for a better market price.
“You are mad if you are sitting there waiting for the market to jump, because the market is very good now.
“If they (the teeth) look like breaking you have got to get them in.”
Wagga Wagga Selling Agents Association chairman Ryan Schiller said producers will need to stay on top of lambs likely to erupt teeth.
“You won’t want to be running right out as long as you can because you are going to be subject to how buyers define it.
“It might just take a little bit of pressure off those lambs that are getting the point of breaking teeth and you’ve got that little bit of time up your sleeve for lambs that might break overnight.”
Mr Schiller said producers will still try to get their lambs away as quick as they can and not try to run them on for an extra week or two “because they might get away with it.”
Elders southern zone livestock manager Peter Homann welcomed the change and said it is often the best lambs in a draft that are breaking their teeth.
Hamilton stock agent Heath Templeton said most lambs in southern Victoria are marketed as soon as they are prime and he did not expect the lamb definition to change how producers marketed their stock.
WA makes state law changes to match federal change
Western Australia’s Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan welcomed the new lamb definition, which will also apply in the state after amendments to the WA Meat Industry Authority Regulations 1985 were gazetted today.
About 93 percent of WA sheep producers who responded to a survey believed the former definition was negatively impacting their business.
Ms MacTiernan said the regulatory changes will support WA lamb exports, which reached a record value of $307 million in 2018.
“This change will give WA sheep meat producers a longer time to market their product as lamb.
“It will allow our farmers to fairly compete with New Zealand producers in international markets.”
Industry resources designed to support definition change
The Australian sheep industry has compiled a range of resources to inform producers and other industry stakeholders about the new definition:
FACT SHEET: Australia’s new definition of lamb – what you need to know
FACT SHEET: Erupted permanent incisor teeth not in wear – the impact on eating quality
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