National Sheep Association warns farmers to get old season lambs to market specifications

Producers' organisation calls for changes to TSE regulations at a European level, following concerns over carcase splitting rules

From left, Phil Stocker, Owen Paterson and John Geldard on Mr Geldard's farm in the Lyth Valley, Cumbria
From left, Phil Stocker, Owen Paterson and John Geldard on Mr Geldard's farm in the Lyth Valley, Cumbria

The National Sheep Association (NSA) is encouraging farmers to get their old season lambs away quickly to avoid losing out financially.

The organisation, which represents the views and interests of sheep producers throughout the UK, suggests the practice of carcase splitting regularly leads to reports of animals being devalued by £25 per head.

The reminder comes as many of last season’s lambs reach the age when their first permanent teeth come up - a marker of the theoretical 12 months of age at which TSE regulations at a European level state that carcases must be split and the animal’s spinal cord removed.

Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive, stressed that farmers should make sure they are getting their old season lambs to market specifications quickly and selling them.

Otherwise, they risk seeing the animals devalued.

“There are many farmers out there who are still finishing hogg lambs, and at this time of the year its crucial they are watching body condition closely so lambs don’t go overweight or out of spec, or to make sure they are being fed adequately to finish well in advance of teeth coming up and risking having to be split,” he said.

“If lambs are too big the price per kilo is reduced or kilos are given away free, and the processors regularly end up with efficiency problems due to this.

“It requires good management to finish old season lambs at target weights and condition; getting it wrong will lead to wastage in the abattoir and increased costs which will get passed down the chain.”

Under current EU rules, old season lambs are mouthed to determine if their first pair of permanent incisors have erupted and the carcase needs to be split.

Mouthing and carcase splitting costs markets and abattoirs money, which is inevitably passed to farmers through lower prices.

Mr Stocker added: “Determining a lamb’s age through mouthing is subjective but ultimately decides the value of the lamb.

“The cost to the farmer of the teeth emerging will devalue the lamb and this problem will only get worse as the new season trade ramps up.”

The NSA wants a review of the TSE regulations at a European level.

In the meantime, it is working with the NFU and other industry stakeholder groups to encourage Defra and the Food Standards Agency to change the way it implements carcase splitting rules in the UK.

Specifically, it is calling for a change to the current method of determining when an animal crosses the theoretical 12-month line and is proposing a date of the end of June following the season of birth as a cut-off date for carcase splitting, rather than incisor eruption.

The NSA says it confident this will reduce both time and costs for farmers.

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