Defra has confirmed plans to use a fixed cut-off date of June 30 to age lambs instead of checking teeth.
Sheep splitting rule changes could save the industry millions, after Defra has confirmed plans to use a fixed cut-off date of June 30 to age lambs instead of checking teeth, following lobbying from farming organisations.
The new cut-off date will be implemented in time for June 2019, with the potential to save producers and the supply chain £24 million.
NFU livestock board chairman Richard Findlay said the union, along with other organisations, had long been urging government to implement a simpler and more accurate method to determine whether a lamb was over 12 month old and the carcass needs to be split to remove the spinal cord.
“We welcome the news of a cut-off date as it will mean no mouthing of sheep and no splitting of carcasses – which can unnecessarily devalue carcasses by as much as 40% – before the 30 June.
“This change will enable the industry to cease dentition checks entirely, providing a far more precise way to age lambs at the time of slaughter and potentially adding millions of pounds of value to the industry.”
National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said it showed what could be achieved when the industry worked together.
“We estimate that checking for tooth eruption has cost the UK sheep industry some £24 million a year in time and reduced value,” he said.
“It is an imprecise method that has led to uncertainty and has made it difficult for finishers to plan buying and feeding regimes.”
NSA said it would provide real certainty, allow finishers to plan, and should minimise the numbers of lambs needing to be split.
“In theory there may be a risk of a final surge of lambs towards the end of June but in practice the industry will have plenty of time to finish lambs and will be aware of the risks of leaving too many too late,” he added.
“In addition, many of the larger abattoirs will make the switch to new season lamb well in advance of this end of June cut-off date.
“In our final discussions with Defra and FSA we stressed the need for a decision during this autumn so that the industry can make informed decisions over sheep buying and grazing plans and the next steps will now see industry working with Defra, devolved administrations, and FSA to agree the final implementation details.”
NFU Scotland livestock chairman Charlie Adam said: "From 2019, old season lambs will be determined to be 12 months old on a set calendar date of June 30, after this date carcase splitting and removal of specified risk material (SRM) for TSE controls will be required for old season lambs.
“This will ensure that finishers can have more certainty about their possible market returns.
“This change would not have come if it was not for industry representative organisations jointly pushing this issue with UK Government and the European Commission.
“I would like to recognise the effort made by farming, auction market, and abattoir organisations to highlight the overburdensome cost of checking for tooth eruption.”