This afternoon I have been asked to outline for you how I became involved in providing suckling lamb for the restaurant trade.
This came about not from a deliberate attempt on my part or any one else s to set up a new trade, but rather it evolved from my desire to see my sheep enterprise become at least viable if not profitable.
Prior to 1978 I had carried out a sheep programme complementary to my rice farming of 1st x Border Leicester-Merino ewes and Poll Dorset rains. Being a new convert to sheep farming, I followed what one might refer to as traditional sheep management, i.e. 500 ewes with 2-3% rams paddock joined October through to December. Farm records showed a lamb marked percentage from 80% to as low as 25%.
Considering this to be highly inefficient I sought the advice of the Department of Agriculture which gave reasons for the low lambing percentage as adverse climatic conditions causing infertility in the rams.
As a result of discussions on possible and probable lambing percentages Agriculture personnel approached me to see if I would consider using my flock as a trial for the research project PMSG, on a commercial farming level.
Many of the procedures used in laboratory trials proved to be too time- consuming and too costly for farm application, but further research and development evolved techniques which enable sponges to be implanted in the ewes in the normal drenching race and the injectable PMSG was further refined so that it could be injected intra-muscularly rather than intravenously giving a more time efficient procedure requiring less man power.
PMSG in NSW can only be administered under veterinarian supervision but when farm records show a rise in lamb percentages of over 200% lambs marked annually it is worthwhile.
The outcome of these research trials has meant that the flock ewes are joined every eight months and by dividing the flock into two groups ewes are joined every four months on the property.
The technique of sponge insertion and cycling commences when the lambs at foot are between six to eight weeks old. This presented new problems because the ewes were suckling multiple lambs and it was found that sponges were being lost, i.e. the progestagen sponge has a cotton cord attached for easy removal and it is thought that the lambs were pulling these out when feeding from the ewe.
Seeking to remove this problem ‘and to reduce the demands on the ewes’, we looked at the lamb situation. Some research was done on weaning and grass or supplementary feeding the lambs, as they were too small for the fat lamb market at this stage. This alternative again made demands on farm labour and time when other farming activities had priority.
The other alternative was to find someone or some way to market such young lambs. The possibility of setting up a feedlot was investigated but the market price of lamb did not justify the capital outlay for such a project, hence - who would buy them?
Discussions were held with various wholesale outlets in Sydney and sample carcases were despatched for appraisal. A distributor found an enthusiastic market for these suckling lambs in selected restaurants.
The distributor is able to take all the lambs from my property, and those of my neighbour who follows the same project joining alternate two months so that a constant supply of lambs is available to our outlet. The possibility of extending the market was not researched as supply met demand and carcase quality is paramount.
The lambs are selected and weighed on the property - between 16-19kg liveweight. These lambs must be in prime condition - any lamb without bloom or obvious y mismothered must be ‘rejected but will normally grow on for the fat lamb market.
Selection is carried out fortnightly. Selected lambs are delivered to the local abattoir where they are slaughtered and chilled. The chilled carcasses and offal are then sent directly to Sydney for distribution.
The skins from these lambs are sold to an interested skin dealer and this helps offset the killing charges.
A base carcase rate is negotiated annually. The cost of killing and freight is paid and still these lambs bring in a return greater than a good average price for a full grown fat lamb.
This market meets the needs of one particular ethnic group in our community and has not been fully explored or exploited.
I would like to suggest that it is up to individual farmers to explore possible markets which may be available through our ethnic cultures and so provide income from new sources with the possibility of developing small export markets.