Clipping charges to add to sheep farmers’ woes

It’s been a difficult few weeks for sheep farmers; the inclement weather, combined with lower grass quality, has seen lamb growth rates plummet on many farms.

In instances where farmers are not yet supplementing with a high-energy concentrate, farmers will find it difficult to put the final few kilos on their lambs’ backs.

Prices have also been less than desirable, with many lambs struggling to break the €100/head mark once slaughtered.

As it stands, most plants are offering base quotes of 450-460c/kg to secure supplies of spring lambs – pretty much unchanged from last week.

Both Kildare Chilling and Kepak Athleague are only separated by the Quality Assurance bonus being offered. The former is currently offering a base price of 460c/kg + 10c/kg QA, while Kepak Athleague is starting negotiations with farmers at 460c/kg + 5c/kg QA.

Like last week, the Irish Country Meats’ plants are offering an all-in price of 460c/kg (450c/kg + 10c/kg QA). When compared to the corresponding week in 2016, these quotes are pretty much unchanged.

Factories are currently starting negotiations with farmers at 240-250c/kg for fleshed ewes. However, top prices of 270c/kg have been reported this week.

John Lynskey, IFA Sheep Chairman, said lamb prices are firm this week and top prices of 480c/kg are being paid to groups and farmers with larger lots to market.

He added: “Demand remains good and the sterling exchange rate, at 88p/€1, is helping in respect of competitiveness in the UK.”

In addition, he said, this will make northern lambs less attractive for plants. He continued: “Farmers are still very angry and frustrated with the way plants are using imported lambs against local supplies.”

Clipping charges on the way back

Despite the above mentioned difficulties, it now appears that farmers will also have to contend with clipping charges on sheep in the coming weeks.

Some plants have already activated charges of 20c/animal on ewes and hoggets; others are expected to roll out clipping charges for lambs in the coming weeks.

Such charges follows on from the introduction of the ‘Clean Livestock Policy‘ last year. This is a three-category system which classifies sheep as being satisfactory (category A), acceptable (category B) or unacceptable (category C).

The categories explained

Category A – satisfactory

These are sheep with a clean and dry fleece that can be slaughtered, with an unacceptable risk of contaminating the meat during the slaughter process, by using the standard hygienic dressing procedures routinely employed by the plant.

Category B – acceptable

Sheep in this category are classified as having a moderate soiling of fleece that can only be slaughtered, without an unacceptable risk of contamination of the meat during the slaughter process, by putting in place additional interventions. This includes extra defined dressing controls.

Category C – unacceptable

These are sheep with a heavily contaminated fleece unfit for slaughter. These sheep must not be presented for ante-mortem in this condition and it is the responsibility of the FBO (Food Business Operator) to take the required remedial action.