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Sheep Update

Livestock Update, September 1998

Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, Beef/Sheep, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

Marketing Feeder vs. Slaughter Lambs
Lamb prices in 1998 have certainly not held true to typical seasonal trends. Normally, the highest prices for slaughter lambs are realized in the early spring, which coincides with seasonal demand for lamb products. In 1998, prices received in June for slaughter lambs were about $.25/lb. higher than prices received in April. Record low levels of lambs available for slaughter, as well as a decrease in imports compared to early spring, contributed to this increase. Since May, U.S. slaughter numbers have been running below year-ago levels. With fewer lambs available due the decline in ewe numbers, prices are expected to remain steady the remainder of the summer with prices in the mid $70 to low $80 range.

As fall approaches, producers with spring lambing programs are faced with the decision of selling feeder lambs or slaughter lambs. In most cases, the production of heavier slaughter lambs will generate more income for the producer. This may be especially true this year with cheap corn and barley. With corn prices at less than $2.25 per bushel and barley around $1.00 per bushel, feed costs per pound of live weight gain in lambs will be less than $.30 when these grains are used with a protein supplement to feed lambs in a dry-lot situation. Assuming a 100 pound feeder lamb is worth $.80/cwt., gross income per head is $80. If this 100 pound lamb is fed an extra 40 days, resulting in an extra 25 pounds of weight gain at a cost of $.30/lb., breakeven price for this 125 lb. slaughter lamb compared to marketing as a feeder is $.70/lb. An extra $6 to $13 per head may be realized when this 125 lb. slaughter lamb sells for $.75 to $.80/cwt. compared to marketing the 100 pound feeder lamb for $.80/lb. Currently, heavy slaughter lambs are receiving a premium in the Midwest. In the past, there have been higher prices paid for heavier slaughter lambs in the fall.

In Virginia, several lambs are sold directly off grass weighing 100 to 110 pounds. Many times these lambs are underfinished and will be purchased as feeders. This is typical for lambs sired by black-face rams, as the lambs are late maturing and are still growing at this stage. Earlier maturing lambs offered for sale directly off grass may have adequate finish to be sold as market lambs at this weight. Of course, the quality and quantity of forage these lambs have access to in late summer and fall will have a large impact on lamb weights and condition. When high quality fall pastures are available to graze lambs, supplementation with 1 lb. of corn or barley per day while on pasture may result in gains of up to .5 lb./day. This supplementation will be relatively cheap on a cost of gain basis, especially when pastures are short and forage availability is limited.

Producers wanting to increase the income from their sheep operations should consider marketing lambs at heavier weights.

Virginia Bred Ewe Sale Scheduled
The Virginia Bred Ewe Sale will be held at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds in Harrisonburg, Va., on Saturday, October 24. A quality group of registered Suffolk, Hampshire, and Dorset ewes will be offered for sale. For more information contact Scott Greiner, Department of Animal Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061. Phone (540) 231-9159.

Virginia-North Carolina Shepherds' Symposium Scheduled
The 1998 Virginia-North Carolina Shepherds' Symposium will be held at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on December 4 & 5. The symposium will feature a variety of topics related to sheep production and management, as well as a commercial trade show. Program details and registration brochures will be available in October.

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