Lambs – To feed or not to feed, that is the question.

November 27, 2021

Well, that is not quite the quote, and we can safely assume that Shakespeare never had to make the call on whether to feedlot his lambs or sell them as stores. However, this is the question for many-a-sheep-producer and one which Milne Feeds sheep specialist, Brett Blanchett has been asked quite a few times already this season. Brett shares his thoughts on some factors that may help answer “the question”.  He identifies a couple of key market trends:

·      The store lamb price through the last 5 months has been strong, and up by around $20 head, when compared to the previous two years. On a $160 lamb, that is an increase of just over 10%.

·      Looking at the processor prices for carcass weight for this season, 2021 looks to be up by around 10% when compared to the last 2 years.

So, the answer this year is the same as the previous two years, relatively speaking, Brett says.  With that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the questions we, as sheep producers, should ask ourselves.

1.      Are we measuring our inputs and outputs to understand the economics of feeding lambs? To get inbound lamb weights, weigh the feed in and weigh the feed at the end of a batch.  This isn’t too onerous a task but provides a great benchmark. Even if this exercise is done for only one batch, there will at least be some useful data to base future decisions on. Working backwards from the kill sheet using the carcass weights and meat yield, profit can be calculated. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is an overused quote but massively relevant to lamb feeding.

2.      From these measured factors and recorded data, what is the one thing that we can quickly check to assess profit? It should always be Cost of Live Weight Gain, expressed as cents per kilogram carcass weight, which allows for comparison to the kill sheet. Cost per tonne of feed by itself means very little. For example, if the ration cost is $350/tn and the Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) is 7:1 (the lamb needs to eat 7kilograms of feed to gain 1 kg of liveweight), is this better, economically, than paying $450/ tn and getting an FCR of 5 to 1?

Brett suggests there are another few points to consider. Generally speaking, the season has seen, and will see, more lambs finished on pasture. If trying to feedlot the tail of the mob, the expectations on FCR should be reduced, as these are the weaker lambs.  Also take into account the feedlot mortality rate. Some lamb feedlots are losing 2-4% of their lambs, mainly through acidosis. With current lamb values, this is a major cost that needs to be brought to account. Losses need to be 1% or under for best practice.  

Brett also recently attended an industry field day where different genetics measured in ewes required between 8 to 10 Megajoules of Energy (ME) per day just to maintain weight. This ME variation, expressed as a percentage, is relevant when looking at their offspring and their ability to convert feed to meat.  This means it is wise to consider where the farms’ own lambs, or lambs that we buy-in to finish, fall on the scale of ME required just to maintain?

With a focus on assisting customers to realise and achieve profit opportunities, Brett says the team at Milne Feeds are not necessarily here to ‘sell you a pellet’, instead preferring to help you through some of the numbers and even get involved in an on-farm evaluation for feeding your lambs.  ‘We are here to help and always happy to share ideas’, Brett says.