Chris Howie’s market wrap: The season, bloodlines and ‘flash’ sales

Chris Howie, September 2, 2021

Chris Howie offers his perspective on market trends and opportunities in coming weeks and months, drawing from both his own observations and from a wide contact network of producers, agents, processors, industry associates and leaders developed during his extensive career as a livestock agent. Chris is Stockco’s Business Development Manager.


Southern season

Apologies this month is a bit top heavy on sheep but it is that time of the year.

Bit of a seasonal update for the south – It’s good in most of South Australia and Victoria; however, between the Lachlan and Murray rivers in NSW Riverina it is quite tight to dry in some areas. WA is ticking along very nicely. Tasmania is heading into an excellent spring in most areas with recent rains and snow setting pasture profiles up. All states the sun has allowed pastures to move and young stock are stretching. We know the season can change quickly during September and October with a hot windy spell, but fingers crossed early spring will be kind.

Bloodline provenance

Many years ago several Merino studs in South Australia raised the issue of sheep being sold with their bloodline on the placard yet the breeder had never purchased any of their rams. Much of this was driven by the sale agent not knowing the sire origin on the day and attributing sheep body and wool type to the mob being sold, not necessarily trying to create a bloodline premium.

With recent records being set by the Aussie White breed it seems some sheep that are a similar style or definite crosses are being described as pure breds when being offered. High prices can drive poor decisions and I suggest buyers and agents beware and do your homework to ensure you are buying the real article.

As Kev Cavanagh from the ABC – Aunty Jack show used to say “Hey trend setters”Graham Gilmour at Tattykeel with his agent Craig Pellow from QPL decided to address bloodline providence within his Aussie White operation. The Tattykeel Certified tag has certainly opened the next level of marketing and provided an exceptional bloodline premium to the vendors. I can conservatively say recent sales have proved it to be worth $300 per head plus on similar lines of Aussie Whites. What a great initiative which I think many cattle and sheep studs will look to adopt to leverage their trusted performance bloodline brands.

Bloody good idea – community “flash sales”

Back in the mid-2000s many smaller sale yard locations across Australia were decommissioned as the smaller yardings were struggling to attract buyers which saw prices discounted. The safety upgrade costs for these small yards outweighed the benefit of holding a sale also. This saw the consignment of livestock to larger regional centres.

Keith-based agency Spence Dix and Company ran a “flash sale” with about 5000 Merino sheep at Karoonda in SA this month in conjunction with the District Council of Karoonda East Murray and AuctionsPlus. This was the first physical sheep sale in the town since 2008. They averaged just over $280 per head with a top of $350. The ability to present smaller yardings and interface online providing access to a national buyer gallery and reintroduced the opportunity for local community identity associated to quality livestock. The success of this event has provided the confidence to run another “flash sale” with 8000 ewes at Marrabel in late September also interfaced with AuctionsPlus. Having been an agent in this area for a long time the sheep are well worth inspection.

Setting up your rams/bullsDeb Scammel, Talking Livestock, Clare SA spoke at the Livestock Forum: Rebuilding Stock Numbers in Naracoorte organised by PIRSA this week as part of a state roadshow. Deb directed producers to set their rams and bulls up three months before use, not two weeks prior to putting them with the girls. Socialising groups, shearing, vaccinating, or brushing their teeth puts the boys under stress which has a direct impact on semen production. Catching that first cycle in your females is so important and you need the lads up and about day one.

Beer diet?

An interesting note from the same Naracoorte forum was fat cover. Studies show 1mm of additional fat = 5% better survival rate in lambs. Surface area loses heat, so big, lean lambs have to work harder to stay warm. Looking at me maybe we should feed lambs beer…

Agency and service provider training – Wodonga TAFE will start their next group intake via zoom in 2 weeks time. If you have a potential starter in your business contact Simone Dand


Lambs are bouncing along with trade lamb indicator at $9.50. Do your self a favour and swing the drafting gate on the tops asap. Mutton is still providing an excellent return at $7+ however skins did ease this month in line with the wool job and availability of shipping containers.

Speaking to James Tierney, RLA agency in Wagga, he said “The surprise packet over the past three weeks has been lamb prices really showing the supply pressure. At Wagga heavy old lamb has been making $10.40 and $10.50/kg cwt with some exceptional sales pushing to $11 per kg. Sucker lambs in good numbers have been following the same trends.

Ron Rutledge, Vic/Riverina livestock coordinator for Nutrien said “The Northern Riverina is doing it tough with limited rain and it has been very busy” Ron indicated that “60 percent of the area’s lambs will be gone by the end of September with many that normally go to processors having been sold as stores.”

With Victoria still wet we both agents agree getting in early is the best option. Risk = reward.

Buy ewes early – many wait until October to buy their replacement ewes. My suggestion is sell your old ewes now as mutton and buy your replacements straight away. Give them some hay and keep them around the sheds or in a tree line until a paddock frees up. The savings on buy price will make it well worth doing. If the funds are a bit tight using a livestock facility for 3 or 4 months makes very good economic sense.

Following on about ewe buying opportunities John Fitzpatrick, Elders Deniliquin has 10,000; 2020 drop, Poll Pooginook blood ewes being offered next Tuesday on Auctions Plus. The ewes are July shorn and from Cooinbil Station, Coleambally and Mungadal Station at Hay. The full details should appear on Sunday evening. I felt a straight run of ewes like this is worth a mention.

The feature merino ewe sales are about to start in WA, SA, Vic and NSW and with an ever-increasing interface with electronic sales platforms there should not be any flat spots.

I will point out to younger agents that sales don’t just happen by themselves and hoping someone shows up to buy your clients ewes is not covering their interests. Border closures mean “old fashioned, phone based agency practice” is more important than ever – do homework early, make phone calls to find orders!!

Grass seed management success After the drought and very late green spring last year the issue of grass seeds in lambs and mutton may have dropped from your radar. Speaking to Paul Leonard from Thomas Foods International he was very complimentary about how far producer grass seed management has come over the last 15 years. Paul said “The management of seed in pastures combined with early shearing has seen a dramatic decrease in carcass contamination. Recent years have seen a lack of penetrating seed which may allow some to become complacent. If not careful and with a couple of hot days this can quickly become a problem for producers. Central western NSW has seen some early seed appear however most areas are still in early stages of seed set.”

As an agent I had many seed discussions with processors and I suggest you take the time to assess your lamb paddocks so as not to spoil 12 months’ worth of good work. Corkscrew, Spear grass, silver grass, barley grass etc appear in hours on the first hot day. From experience be careful walking your lambs to the trucking yards – even though your paddocks are good the roadways can heavily infest sheep with just a 2 km walk.

Lamb supply in larger numbers looks more likely to be in early October not September. In the south many lamb operations have started to implement better livestock production programs aligned to rising plain of feed availability for ewes. Many terminal operations have moved lambing from the March to May drop back to May / June. The traditional lambs run in July is now targeting September with shearing lambs common place to enter the Xmas to March supply period. The change in lamb dentition cut off and sophistication of lamb feed lotting has taken large steps to help even out the supply hollows over time.


Cows continue to be in short supply with limited numbers at most southern sale venues. Will Jennings Paull and Scollard, Wodonga had 53 clean Angus cows ave 675kg make $4.47 to processors at Barnawartha this week. Also a report of good dairy cows making $4.10 in Shepparton. At these values it is a fantastic opportunity to reinvest in young replacements – not buy a new Kelpy truck. Holding old cows is not an option if you are serious about increasing herd numbers. With PTIC heifers at $2500 – $3000 the trade in economics are very sound to increase numbers with money still in the pot.

Trade and feeder cattle continue to maintain historic rates and it is unlikely this will change much until heat drives numbers off crop. NSW is the barometer for price at this time of year and a hot spell can see numbers appear very quickly.

James Tierney, RLA Wagga said the Wagga yarding have remained at 1500 – 2000 per week and it is unlikely they will change much. Wagga is a large trading area and prices have seen many traditional backgrounding operations not put cattle away this season.

Cade Ebdon C&M Livestock, Tasmania said cattle and sheep are bringing the same rates in Tassie as the mainland with many already looking to buy before the spring rush. Some areas are wet and moving heavy cattle to agistment and buying in lighter trading cattle.

Elders Dairy, National Manager Rob French (and Cats supporter) gave me a quick update on the dairy side. Base level milkers are at $2000 with the better style cows hovering around $2500 – $2600. 450 “top of the tree” made $3000 with all of the production and breeding details. There is solid enquiry with many choppers capturing the excellent hooks prices and dairys buying replacements. Live export is still at $2200. Indications are autumn joined cows will be a bit dearer heading towards January especially if calving to sexed semen.

Cow and calf split value – with some excellent feed in paddocks and cows holding good condition plus a calf at foot it is worth sitting down and doing the split numbers on your excess sale units before fixing a price. With the current cow prices and very strong enquiry for light calves the split value may be higher than the store value for the right units.

New conceptOptiweigh and Farmgate auctions teamed up to offer a draft of 324 yearling heifers from Glenbrook Pastoral Company, Aberfoyle, NSW. The upside of this combined tech piece allowed Optiweigh – in paddock weighing system, to feed actual daily weight gain information into the Farmgate Auction system which was update daily until sale time for the 399kg heifers . 120 users logged into this new concept sale with more to come.


Take the lamb money

Split value on cow and calf units

Set your bulls and rams up now

Use vasectomised rams as teasers – down town boom time!!

Buy your replacement ewes early

Get your livestock finance in place.

Training staff





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