Does seasonal lamb production affect lamb demand?

Lamb is unique from other meats for many reasons, and one of them is the seasonality of production. This situation causes major challenges for our industry’s supply chain as it seeks to meet the needs of U.S. consumers. Therefore, seasonality becomes an issue for the entire industry. There are periods throughout the year when the supply of lamb is inconsistent, which leads to market price volatility and consequences for carcass size and/or quality.

To better understand the current situation of seasonality of lamb supply, the Roadmap Implementation Committee (including representatives from all industry sectors and national organizations), commissioned a team of industry experts to compile relevant data on the topic.

This white paper will include factors that affect seasonal supply of US and imported lamb, demand for lamb by season for both traditional and nontraditional markets, factors that influence seasonal supply of lamb from the farm/ranch gate, opportunities to alter the seasonal supply of US lamb, and case studies of producers that have shifted season of production to meet a shortage of lamb.

This “seasonality white paper” will be released soon so stay tuned for more details. A webinar and summary sheets are also in the works. In the meantime, a few highlights are rising to the surface that are important to your lamb checkoff’s mission—to increase demand for American Lamb.

The majority of chefs and retailers are averse to buying frozen lamb. There is a sentiment that, since domestic beef, pork and poultry are available fresh, then lamb should be, too. However, some cuts such as shanks are an exception.

The traditional market prefers a larger and fatter lamb that weighs 120 to 160 pounds live weight, taking 8 to 14 months to grow from birth to harvest.

In the spring, inventory of harvest-ready lambs often outpaces the rate of lamb harvest; therefore, lambs gain extra weight in the feedlot resulting in larger carcasses. Large, overly-fat lamb carcasses are common during the months of April to July, which results in inconsistent product to the consumer.

The non-traditional lamb market generally prefers lighter and leaner lambs, which allows for less timing flexibility. The largest segment of non-traditional consumers is immigrant families from less developed countries who desire lamb for their religious holiday meals.

The highest volume of lambs entering the non-traditional market are between 50 and 90 pounds live weight and generally 3 to 7 months old at harvest. Therefore, the supply of most winter- and spring-born lambs to the non-traditional market occurs during April to October. There are premiums paid for non-traditional lambs during many times of the year.

The greatest shortage of lambs is June through August. There are not enough new crop lambs (6 to 8 months old) or fall born lambs (8 to 10 months old) ready for harvest. And summer-born, 12-month old lambs are nearly non-existent. More fall born lambs on a moderate rate of growth, or winter born lambs on a fast rate of gain, are most likely to fit this market shortage.

Lambs born in the southern hemisphere—such as Australia and New Zealand—are largely produced in-season, however these seasons are naturally exactly opposite those in the U.S., which means imports can help provide supply when there isn’t enough American lamb. But, that’s also a problem because imports are then capturing more market share from U.S. producers.

It is the hope of the Roadmap Implementation Committee and your national sheep/lamb organizations that this seasonality white paper will help identify realistic opportunities throughout the industry that will have big impacts on our domestic lamb supplies. and improve our quality and consistency year-around.

For more information on the seasonality project, or questions related to American Lamb Board projects, please contact Rae Maestas at [email protected].