It's official: new lamb definition starts in July in NSW

Forbes Livestock and Agency's Jack Rix checking 2nd cross lambs from Westwood Grazing, Wellington that sold for $245. Photo by Rachael Webb.
Forbes Livestock and Agency's Jack Rix checking 2nd cross lambs from Westwood Grazing, Wellington that sold for $245. Photo by Rachael Webb.

A $50 a head boost for older lambs is expected to follow the decision to change the definition of lamb in NSW to bring it into line with New Zealand and new export rules.

From July, the new definition of a lamb in NSW will be a lamb under 12 months or with no permanent incisor teeth in wear. The definition will be applied to domestic and export abattoirs in NSW from July 1, The Land can reveal.

According to the Sheep Producers Australia, a permanent incisor is considered 'in wear' if:

  • it touches the upper pad when the sheep's mouth is closed
  • it is above the height of the lamb's milk teeth either side of the permanent incisors.

The previous definition was 'a female, castrate or entire male that has no permanent incisor teeth'. The bizarre situation had occurred previously where a lamb could be sold on a Friday, and then over the weekend lose two-thirds of its value if it lost a milk tooth.

NSW lamb producers would get an estimated $10 million boost to annual returns with changes to the definition, NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said. It will end the market "cliff" when lambs turn into hoggets.

"It gives growers confidence and certainty in going to market with a more definitive physical indicator as to exactly when a lamb can and can't be marketed that way," he said.

"It takes the guess work out of it. This provides producers with a clear warning about when a lamb is nearing the point of no longer being a lamb so that the 'price cliff' faced by all producers once ovine animals pass this point may be better managed," Mr Marshall said.

"The long term benefit is this places our growers on an equal footing with New Zealand product that already applies this same definition. NSW lamb producers will now be able to operate seamlessly in domestic and export markets. Forecasting predicts this will add an estimated $50 value on average to each animal, bringing increased returns of approximately $10m per year to the NSW lamb industry."

The changes will have no bearing on the quality and taste of Aussie lamb, he said.

The new definition is likely to take effect in July this year. Western Australia has said it will also change its definition. (All other states fall under the federal definition.)

The change has already been made at an export level for Australian lambs after former Agriculture Minister David Littleproud amended Export Control (Meat and Meat Products) Orders 2005. That also comes into effect on July 1. NSW is now following through on the change at a domestic level with a change to the Food Regulation 2015.

Last year, the SPA put its support behind the proposal after a nine-week public consultation period showed 83 per cent of the 509 respondents backed the change.

This week the NSW DPI will send a circular to all abattoirs outlining the changes.

"Recognising that industry desires a 1 July 2019 commencement date for the new lamb definition, from 1 July 2019, NSW will apply the new lamb definition in domestic and export plants (Tier 1 premises). Tier 2 premises will apply the new lamb definition in the Export Control (Meat and Meat Products) Amendment (Trade Descriptions for Sheep) Order 2019 once it becomes active on 1 July 2019. Plants (domestic and export) will not be subject to compliance actions for applying the new lamb definition from 1 July 2019."

Forbes Livestock and Agency's Jack Rix said although the change was welcome for vendors it might still create arguments at points of sale of what was a lamb or a hogget.

"It's a good thing, but from my opinion I don't think it will settle all arguments. I think there will still be plenty of debate about what is a lamb or a hogget," he said.

If lambs are fed grain, they'll cut a tooth a bit earlier, he said.

Former SPA president Allan Piggott, Illoura Rams, Moorelands, said the change was well overdue and it was "good to see that it we are nearly there".

"We thought it would take 12 months, but it looks like we are finally there.

"The value to producers will not be across the board, but it will end the stupid situation where a lamb could lose two-thirds of its value over the weekend after sale by just losing its tooth when there was no difference to the animal at all."