Lamb Production

Lambs are liking the sun, but how fast are they growing?

Terry Sim, November 17, 2016
These lambs topped the Griffith market two weeks ago at $215.

How heavy do you want your lambs?

HIGH lamb growth rates and the expected bigger turn-off of heavier lambs later this season has highlighted the importance of producer awareness of new season lamb weight gains.

Achieve Ag Solutions consultant Nathan Scott said due to the good season, current lamb growth rates and the return of shorn lambs to paddocks, he believed there will be a lot of heavy lambs around later in the season.

“And that will be another opportunity to drag prices back.”

New South Wales stock agents believe good pasture conditions and the numbers of lambs shorn earlier due to fluctuating prices, flystrike and grass seed damage risks, and supplementary feeding with cheap grain, could mean large numbers of heavy lambs will come onto the market early next year. Click here to get Sheep Central story links sent to your email inbox.

Mr Scott said the risk of lambs exceeding preferred grid ranges was higher this year if producers were not regularly monitoring their lambs’ live weights.

“We’ve got lambs coming through at 50kg-plus at weaning, so if people aren’t monitoring them or weighing them before they go over the hooks, they will fall out over the top (of grid ranges).

“It is a real risk, especially as people try to hold off.

“The comments keep coming ‘we don’t know what prices are doing, we may as well hold off and put a bit more weight on them,” he said.

“There is a real risk that the lambs will end up over-weight and they will cop a penalty for that.

“The only penalty that exists in our market at the moment is for over-weight, but you don’t want to hit that one because it is the easiest one to avoid.”

Maternal lambs gaining 410gms/day, Merinos 380gms/day

Mr Scott said one of his western Victorian clients had maternal composite lambs that had averaged 410gms a day since weaning, due mainly to management and nutrition, though there had been some selection for growth and carcase genetics.

A client’s pure Merino lambs, with minimal selection for growth or carcase genetics, were averaging 380gms a day. The growth rates from Merinos this year highlighted the potential for higher earnings from Merino flocks using better carcase genetics that was “massively unrealised”, he said.

“From a gross margin point of view, if we get the Merino firing, the composite boys are going to have something to worry about.

“With the composites, we have to be marking our very high percentages and achieving the early turn-off to achieve high gross margins,” he said.

“But if we can get the Merino lambs to fire like we’ve seen this year – if we can do that more consistently and we’re cutting a reasonable fleece, then from a gross margin point of view they arguing to bloody hard to beat.”

Mr Scott said the low fibre feed on clover-rich pastures was driving the high growth rates this year.

“The amount of clover we’ve got puts them right in the window from a nutrition point of view and that’s what is driving most of these growth rates.

“You get the combination of ewes lactating well and then lambs transitioning well onto what we call the rocket-fuel pastures, the ones perfectly set up for lamb growth rates.”

Think before buying those store lambs

Mr Scott said many of his clients had sold store lambs to pasture restockers and lot feeders before the recent price correction, because the money was “too good”.

“The money that people have been paying for store lambs, they will be lucky to get that back from a lamb that they’ve put more kilograms onto.”

In his recent post ‘What are you still doing here?’ fellow Achieve Ag Solutions consultant Scott Dennis urged producers to reflect before keeping lambs into a heavier weight category or letting grass fever lead them into “buying something with a mouth and heartbeat” to consume 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, carrying a lamb for a longer period may also incur costs such as vaccinations, drenching, crutching, shearing and supplementary feed,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Dennis said processor prices are currently at around 480-520c/kg for 18-32kg carcase weight and light store lambs are regularly making more than 700c/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 carcase lamb at the processor is also worth about $100,” he said.

“This situation is a reflection on a very strong store market and the fact that many people with excess grass want something to eat it.”

Mr Dennis urged producers, when working out when to sell lambs, to consider their individual circumstances, but most importantly, “how much can I get now, how much can I get later and 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 two in the bush.”

Mr Scott said many producers were saying they would use cheap grain to feed lambs.

“But they need to understand what performance they would get because the price of the grain is not the most important factor, it is feed conversion.”

He said rather than grain-feeding a store lamb, producers could be focussing on growing out ewe lambs to good weights for joining next year. He is urging clients to “bank or cash in on this year to put condition on ewes”, aiming to get them to condition score 3.3 on pasture and maintain this until joining with the use of cheap grain, if necessary.

“This is the chance, we’re getting a free kick out of this season for ewes, once we get the lambs off the ewes, they are going to put weight on until January — so let’s make the most of it.”

Lamb growth rates surge with the sun

Kerr and Co Livestock auctioneer Craig Pertzel said since the constant rain stopped three weeks ago lambs had just “smoked”, with lambs in lacklustre condition subsequently “turning around” to freshening up and finish.

“The quality of the lambs in Hamilton yesterday was outstanding.”

Mr Pertzel said the turn-around in lamb condition has not surprised good operators.

“Panic slowly, that’s the key with lambs.”

Mr Pertzel with many northern shorn lambs not due to come back onto the market until February, he was predicting good demand for southern lambs from processors, and local and interstate restockers, up to Christmas.

“We are absolutely gilt-edged guaranteed until Christmas, which covers the vast majority of our lambs.

“There is no haste; the only thing that I can see that will wreck the job is too many numbers in one week and kill space is king.”

Click here to read Nathan Scott’s full post – ‘Not pub talk – real growth rates.’

Click here to read Scott Dennis full post – ‘What are you still doing here?’


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


Get Sheep Central's news headlines emailed to you -