Prime lamb selection was one of the topics at the recent two-day Clyde monitor farm meeting, hosted by Andrew Baillie who farms Carstairs Mains in South Lanarkshire, one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland.
The majority of Mr Baillie’s 300 ewes are pedigree – Beltex and Texel. To enable the group to assess a variety of commercial, prime lambs, the community group met at nearby Calla Farm, owned by Andrew Baillie’s father, David.
At Calla, David Baillie had a batch of 59 lambs, a mixture of pure Scottish Blackfaces and Beltex and Texel crosses, all destined for slaughter the following day at Scotbeef, near Stirling.
Murray Hardy of Scotbeef outlined the requirements of meat wholesalers.
“Different outlets have different weight specifications, so establish the weight requirements of the wholesaler you plan to supply.
“Currently Scotbeef’s main lamb outlets are Marks and Spencer and export customers. Both specify lamb carcases in the 16 to 21 kg weight range, so Scotbeef does not pay for any kilos over the 21 kg maximum.”
Mr Hardy emphasised the frequently given advice regarding lamb fat levels.
“The correct level of fatness is crucial. There’s a ready market for lambs in the 2 to 3L fat grade range, which grade R or better for conformation.
“An over-fat lamb is trouble, especially if it’s also heavier than the weight specification!”
Mr Hardy added: “Keep an eye on your finishing lambs. Handle them regularly to determine the level of finish because once a lamb is ready, it’s ready!
“Don’t be tempted to hang onto them hoping the price will improve. It will cost money to feed them, the price may not rise, possibly even fall, and you run the risk of taking them over the weight spec, adding worthless kgs or worse – making them over-fat and incurring a price deduction per kg as a result.”
Taking the minds of the community group beyond the farm gate, Mr Hardy explained how overweight, over-fat or over-lean lambs sold through the live, prime auction system can reduce the prices for prime lambs traded deadweight.
“In the live market, buyers pay considerably less for out of spec lambs than for quality lambs within weight, conformation and fat level spec. These lower prices pull down the overall average GB auction price, which is calculated daily.
“This price is used by supermarket and export buyers, the volume lamb buyers, as a reference for the price they’re prepared to bid to wholesalers, which in turn pulls down the price of better quality lambs.”
Using David Baillie’s lambs, Mr Hardy guided the group through assessment of lamb conformation and fatness.
“For conformation, check the fullness of the shoulder, the fuller the better. A lamb’s shoulder gives a good indication of the level of fleshing throughout the animal.
“The two best points to assess fatness are over the loin and at the tail dock. The best way of getting ‘your eye in’ on fatness, is to follow a batch of your lambs through the abattoir.”
The following day, that was exactly what the community group did – they travelled to Scotbeef and viewed the carcases of the 59 Calla lambs they had assessed the day before.
David Baillie told the group that he had intended to market the lambs a week or so earlier, but had held them back for the monitor farm meeting. Consequently he anticipated some being too heavy, along with some carrying more than the ideal level of fat. Mr Baillie’s assessment of his lambs was accurate.
Twelve of the lambs were heavier than 21 kgs, producing a total of 13.8 kgs out of the payment range.
All the Calla lambs graded R or better for conformation, with four Es and 14 Us, which included three pure Blackfaces.
The vast majority graded 2, 3L or 3H for fat, with just a handful sneaking, as Mr Baillie had suspected, into 4L and 4H.
Mr Hardy encouraged the group to regard the animals they produce as food and to bear in mind what the consumer wants. “When it comes to lamb, the one thing the consumer most definitely does not want, is fat!”, he added.
The next Clyde monitor farm meeting will be on 5th March.
For more information, please contact either of the Joint Facilitators-
Grant Conchie, 01555 662562, firstname.lastname@example.org
Raymond Crerar, 01292 525458, Raymond.email@example.com
For general information on Monitor Farms, plus detailed reports of meetings, please visit: www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms
Caption – Murray Hardy of Scotbeef explaining how to assess live, prime lambs.