By Connor Lynch
BRANTFORD — Easter was a fairly strong showing for Ontario lamb producers, but it’s no longer the make-or-break event of the year for producers.
Fewer lambs were sold this year before Easter, according to weekly sale barn reports. This year, Ontario sale barns sold 5,456 lambs over seven days just two weeks before Easter. Over the same time last year, 6,038 lambs were sold. Prices were slightly stronger nearly across the board this year, with an average increase of $6.50 per hundredweight. Lambs in the 65 lb.-79 lb. range saw the largest increase, going from an average $309.19 per 100 lb. last year to $336.68 per 100 lb. this year. This means a 75 lb. lamb brought in $252.51.
Since Ontario accounts for more than 50 per cent of domestic lamb production, sets the prices and prices were pretty good, said Ontario Sheep Farmers chair Rob Scott. Scott, a producer east of Brantford, saw prices between $3 and $4 per lb. for his Easter lambs, and was getting offers as high as $5/lb.
Two weeks before Easter is go time for producers; that’s when the majority of lamb that’s going to move for the holiday moves, said Scott.
Lighter lambs are still the top sellers, but the gap is increasingly closing, said Lambton County producer and Ontario sheep director Fraser Hodgson. The price of heavy lambs has increased and demand for lamb has evened out through the year. “Once upon a time (Easter) was the big (sale) of the year, and everything else was measured against it. That hasn’t been the case for quite a while.”
It’s good news for the industry, said Hodgson. That’s because it’s not that prices for Easter lambs have gone down; it’s that prices for heavier lambs, at other times of the year, have gone up.
Ontario only produces about 20 per cent of the lamb consumed in the province. The rest is imported, mainly from Australia, New Zealand and western Canada.
Scott told Farmers Forum that consistently strong demand year-round means producers don’t have to lamb for Easter to make money. Also. with many new producers working off-farm, the time and attention for winter lambing simply isn’t there. The industry’s biggest growth area is in producers doing pasture-lambing, which usually happens in May. Said Scott: “We built a market. Someone in Ontario eats lamb every day.”
Eastern Ontario producer and Ontario Sheep director Chris Moore agreed that demand has been strong. “There’s three buyers for every lamb,” and producers can easily make money outside of the Easter market, he said.