A word from Paul Bartholomew, Livestock Buyer for Vivers Scotlamb Ltd.
“I’ve been very privileged to work for Vivers Scotlamb Ltd for the past 10 years, working alongside Livestock manager John Gibson, procuring around 5000 lambs per week, sold mainly in carcass form. The company is a niche lamb export business, specialising in the supply of high quality E and U classified carcasses to European customers.
Vivers has been exporting lambs for the past 40 years, establishing strong relationships and building up a ‘brand image’ that is synonymous with quality: Vivers being one of the first to establish trading links with Europe, contributing to the export market that we see today, which plays an ever increasing role in the viability of sheep production enterprises in the UK.
The initial export foresight came from Jimmy Vivers. Jimmy still plays an integral part in the business today, building up the company on the sound basis of integrity, attention to detail, and trust – an ethos that is still maintained today.
My role within the business is to procure lambs on a live and deadweight basis, with the company’s reputation and ethos for quality at the forefront of this process. Quality is often subjective; but, from our business’ point of view, quality is measured by the demands of our customers, the majority of which specify carcasses with extreme gigots, lions and shoulders being full of meat throughout, without carrying excessive fat: which in turn provides primals to the customer with very little waste.
The Beltex lamb consistently provides us with carcasses of premium quality, (especially pure/ three-quarter cross lambs) that cannot be matched by other breeds. Producers hitting exacting export specifications can command significant premiums, even when the market is heavily supplied, throughout September – November.
The agricultural sector as a whole is sometimes guilty of not focusing enough on the requirements of the end market, just producing livestock for historical or traditional reasons. However, to maintain profitability and sustainability, producers need to move to become strategic in the production of lambs to fit the end market.
The demand for high end E and U grade carcasses has risen rapidly in recent years, and larger numbers of meat companies in the UK are looking to source quality lambs to supply domestic, ethnic and export customers.
The Beltex breed maintains a number of advantageous traits above other breeds, including being able to be marketed at lower live weights (36kg – 40kg), mainly because of the extreme conformation of lambs which command higher pence per kg, and ultimately achieving greater pounds per head at lower live weights.
Beltex lambs convert feed extremely efficiently, meaning lambs can be finished quickly and cost effectively, especially on concentrated diets. Because of the genetic make-up of the breed and its muscularity, very high kill out percentages can be obtained significantly greater than other breeds. This is beneficial to both live and deadweight sellers.
Liveweight buyers look to buy lambs with high killing out percentages, and greater kill out percentages in a deadweight system result in greater carcass weights; in both cases giving producers increased premiums.
Beltex-bred females are always in very high demand, as the highest value lambs are derived from pure or three-quarter-bred flocks.
Beltex breeding females have sustained high values because the depreciation of the sheep is lower than that of other, more traditionally farmed breeds. This can be attributed to the high cull ewe values in general terms remaining high throughout the season, with growing ethnic markets looking to source lean mutton with high yields of saleable meat, which again contributes to the profitability of a Beltex-based flock.
Good management of ewes, particularly in relation to their condition score, means that they are no harder to lamb, or farm than any other breed. Selection of females and keeping a young flock plays a massive role in ease of management.
Any business needs to be looking at changes within the industry that they operate in. Vivers Scotlamb as a business needs to procure more high-end carcasses year on year for ever increasing customer demands within Europe. We are very lucky to deal with fantastic suppliers who place great attention to detail, and we need their enterprises to continue to supply us with lambs that provide carcasses that meet our customers’ exacting specifications, ultimately enabling us to pass on premium prices for achieving this, leading to long-term sustainability and profitability.
The Beltex-bred lamb is a great asset to our business model and as long as pedigree breeders continue to focus on the production of rams that have extreme conformation and natural muscling, the Beltex breed has a bright future.”