Maximising profit from every lamb carcase was the main discussion topic at the recent Dumfries monitor farm meeting, hosted by the Paterson family and team member Colin Rae, at Hartbush, just north of Dumfries.
The 606 acre (245 ha) mixed unit is the most southerly of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland.
The Dumfries monitor farm community group, many of them prime lamb producers, were surprised to learn from independent retail butcher Nigel Ovens that less than half of a lamb carcase delivered to a butcher from the abattoir can be retailed as primal cuts.
At the meeting Mr Ovens, who owns and runs McCaskie’s in Wemyss Bay, Renfrewshire, demonstrated the butchering of a 21 kg lamb carcase which was one of a batch of 70 finished wethers, recently sold by the Patersons.
The Patersons’ sheep enterprise is based on a breeding flock of Scotch Halfbreds, crossed with Suffolk tups. Ewe lambs are targeted at the breeding market, with 238 sold in 2013 to Yorkshire. This year’s lamb crop, which was weaned in mid-July, includes 320 ewe lambs.
At the meeting prime lamb producers were keen for butcher Nigel Ovens to explain how retailers can charge over £17 per kilo for some lamb cuts when farmers at the time received just over £4 per deadweight kilo for their lambs.
Mr Ovens told the group that he is currently paying approximately £100 for a lamb carcase, and that primal cuts – legs, shoulders, rack and chops - retail for a total of approximately £120.
“When I butcher a lamb carcase, around 40 to 45 per cent yields primal cuts, approximately 15 per cent is trim and the remainder – bones and waste – is in the region of 40 per cent.
“I need to sell the whole carcase and try to maximise income from the saleable meat – adding value and being inventive with cuts wherever possible. For example, whole legs sell well at Christmas and Easter, but are far less popular the rest of the time. They are just too big for the busy, modern consumer, especially if there are only two people in the household. However, by butchering a whole leg into mini joints, making an ideal meal size for a couple which cooks comparatively quickly, I can boost sales of legs.
“My profit potential however is in the trim, as long as I put in some work and exercise some value-adding imagination.”
Mr Ovens gave the kidney channel fat as an example. “The value of this on its own is 90 pence per kilo. One of our specialities is black pudding, a third of which is this kind of fat. Our black pudding retails for around £8 per kilo.”
Other “trim” meat is sold in pies, diced meats, kebabs or marinated in a tasty marinade, ready for the customer to cook.
As a retail butcher dealing directly with his customers, Mr Ovens focuses strongly on the consistency of the eating quality of the meat he sells – flavour, tenderness and succulence, plus provenance.
“I get almost all my beef and, from August onwards, my lambs, from one Orkney farmer, who reliably consistently supplies the type of animal I specify, to help ensure my customers keep returning.
“With beef, it must be native breeds, and his cattle are Aberdeen-Angus. With lambs, I also want some native blood. My first choice is a lamb out of a North Country Cheviot ewe, sired by a continental tup.
“I want a 22 kilo lamb carcase, ideally grading three for fat cover, preferably a ewe lamb – they have more shape and are broader in the chump. I don’t want heavy-shouldered lambs, they lose butchers money – the retail price difference between legs and shoulders is around £5 per kilo.”
Mr Ovens also emphasised the importance of good stockmanship and its impact on meat eating quality. “Butchers can tell from the meat how the animal has been treated and handled, particularly close to slaughter.
“Feed is also important. I want grass-fed animals. I’ve also found that the flavour of meat from two grass-fed animals of the same breed, weight and grade, but from two different areas, can taste very differently. I believe that the difference in flavour is created by the different grasses.”
The next Dumfries monitor farm will be post-harvest.
Full details on the Dumfries monitor farm are available from the facilitators, Smiths Gore:
Judith Hutchison. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Currie. Email: email@example.com
James Worthington. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: 01387 263066
For general information on monitor farms, plus detailed reports of meetings, please visit: www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitor-farms
Caption: Butcher Nigel Ovens working on the lamb carcase at the recent meeting, with monitor farmer Amanda Paterson in the background.